Starting this March, the Metropolitan Museum of Art will begin charging a mandatory $25 fee for patrons who live outside the state of New York, the institution announced today in a press release. For non-New Yorkers, the new policy puts an end to the longstanding practice of “suggesting” or “recommending” that visitors pay $25 to enter the taxpayer-funded institution, while locals will still be privy to the “pay-as-you-wish” policy—as long as they have a valid ID proving residency.
The tourist fee hike comes after a tumultuous year for the crown jewel of New York institutions. In February, the New York Times detailed in a report that the Met had a $40 million deficit, had been forced to layoff or offer buyouts to 90 employees, and would scrap a $600 million expansion project that would bring a new wing. By the end of the month, director Thomas P. Campbell announced he would step down.
In June, Daniel Weiss was named president and CEO of the museum, and in the statement today he assured New Yorkers that the new policy would ultimately benefit the Met’s longterm goals going forward.
“The Met and the City are partners, and we are grateful to Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Finkelpearl for their thoughtful review of this policy and for working with us to ensure that the Met will continue to serve all of New York and our visitors from around the nation and the world for generations to come,” Weiss said.
The change in admission policy seeks to shrink the museum’s debts, which swelled despite the fact that 7 million people visited the institution last year, up from 4.7 million in 2005. One explanation could be general antipathy toward forking over the full $25 dollars—until recently, signs reminded patrons that the fee was “recommended,” not just “suggested.” Among those who visited the Met in 2005, 63 percent paid the full $25; now, that figure languishes at 17 percent.
The museum hopes that the new policy will amount to a new source of income, especially in the face of the decision to go ahead with a renovation project that was delayed last year—once priced at $600 million, it has been scaled back and will now cost $450 million. According to the Times, front door fees currently account for 14 percent of the Met’s $305 million budget, or $43 million, and the new policy is expected to bring in an additional $6 million annually from out-of-state residents.
The plan to stick tourists with the bill to get into the Met was first discussed in April, when it was endorsed by Mayor DeBlasio. “I’m a big fan of Russian oligarchs paying more to get into the Met,” he said in a press conference. Now that the plan has been officially cleared, it already has its enemies—foreign visitors, day-tripping suburbanites, and public art evangelists among them.
In a conversation published in the Times, critics Holland Cotter and Roberta Smith were both unwavering in their conviction that the Met should not change its current policy, for out-of-state visitors or locals.
“Pay as you wish is a principle that should be upheld and defended, a point of great pride,” Smith said. “The city should be equally proud of it. No one else has this, although they should. It indicates a kind of attitude, like having the Statue of Liberty in our harbor. It is, symbolically speaking, a beacon.”
Cotter noted that, if the museum really does stand to make just $6 million annually from tourists paying the new fee, the $65 million plaza that was completed in 2014—paid for by the conservative political activist David H. Koch—could have funded pay-as-you-wish admission for years.
The press release noted that LACMA and the Art Institute of Chicago have policies that benefit those who live in Los Angeles and the Windy City, respectively, and announced that the board will provide funding to ensure that for students from Connecticut and New Jersey, the fee is still optional. (Students from other states will be required to pay a reduced rate of $12.)
And the policy will be, at least at first, somewhat lenient. If you are a New Yorker and forget your ID, you won’t be shown the door, and instead will be given the option to pay what you wish as long as you bring the ID next time.
“We can always make the rules more strict, but I’m hoping we don’t have to,” Weiss told the Times.
Even this lax policy has some worried about the residual effects, and how future generations will remember their first encounters with one of the most beloved museums in the country.
“I don’t know what kind of guidelines will be in place for delivering such ‘warnings,’ ” Cotter said, “but I can easily imagine a young person who may have no I.D. feeling discouraged from returning to the museum.”