NYC Metropolitan Museum of Art is sued over admission fees

Posted Nov 18, 2012 by Leigh Goessl
The New York City Metropolitan Museum of Art is being sued over its admission policies. The lawsuit contends the museum misleads the public into thinking the rates posted are mandatory and not suggested. The museum said the lawsuit is "frivolous".
According to the New York Times' Art Beat blog, two members of the Metropolitan Museum of Art are suing the museum over its fee policy. The fees are suggested, however they assert the $25 fee appears to be "mandatory" to anyone visiting the museum and is designed to defraud people into believing it is a required fee.
The museum also offers a membership at different levels. One of the benefits in becoming a Museum member is to enjoy free unlimited entry to the museum.
The lawsuit was filed in New York State Supreme Court by two long-time museum members, Theodore Grunewald and Patricia Nicholson. The duo had commissioned a survey that asked over 360 visitors to the museum if they felt they were required to pay entry to the Met; 85 percent purportedly said they "believed they were required to pay".
The New York Post reported that an additional 75 percent of those surveyed were "unaware" they could have free admission to the museum, and 65 percent of members indicated they would purchase a membership with the understanding they'd have open free access.
The Gothamist, and other media reports, noted that Grunewald and Nicholson pointed to an 1893 law that required museums funded by taxpayer money to give free public access at least five days and two nights a week in exchange for funding and use of a city-owned building rent-free.
In an agreement made between museums and the city over four decades ago, a “pay what you wish” structure was designed, indicating that any monies collected would be a non- obligatory donation coming from visitors to the museum. However, the plaintiffs contend the sign does not promote a voluntary contribution.
“It’s an absolute travesty,” said Nicholson, “The Museum was designed to be open to everyone, without regard to their financial circumstances — a public library of art and culture to enrich the lives of the citizenry. But instead, the Museum has been converted into an elite tourist attraction to be enjoyed only by those who can afford to pay expensive and illegal admission fees.” (quote courtesy of Michael Gross/Gripe Box).
The lawsuit asserts the Met's policy is that people pay a fee to enter the museum in order to access its numerous exhibits.
“The statute and lease require that the Museum be free of charge to the general public five days a week, but it’s the Museum’s policy that no one can enter without paying a fee," said Michael Hiller, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs. "The Museum’s violation of the law and breach of the lease could hardly be more blatant. But more than the violation of the lease and statute, the Museum’s illegal admission fee policy violates the public trust.”
The lawsuit asks the court to put a stop to the museum from charging visitors any fees. Recently, the museum had increased its "recommended" fee to $25 a person, with some people eligible for lower entry fees. This seems to have played a role in triggering the lawsuit.
Harold Holzer, a museum representative said the suit was "frivolous", reported the New York Post. “The suggestion we’ve been defrauding the public is ludicrous and outrageous. The suggested admission is $25, but it’s not mandatory. It’s on the signage."
According to the New York Post, the Met sees 6 million visitors a year.
Here is an image of the Museum's admission fees that is posted on its website. What do you think? Is this misleading to the public?
Screen shot of the Metropolitan Museum of Art s web page that states its admission policy.
Screen shot of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's web page that states its admission policy.
Metropolitan Museum of Art