In Break With Tradition, the Met Considers Charging Tourists Admission

How would this move alter the museum's tourist-friendly image?

People congregate at the entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is considering charging a mandatory admission fee for the first time in its history. The fee—which would apply only to out-of-town visitors—is part of an on-going effort by the museum to tackle its mounting deficit.

The museum’s leadership has been discussing the possibility of charging admission to out-of-towners for the past year, according to the New York Times, which first reported the story. The step could generate tens of millions of dollars for the Met, which draws 63% of its annual visitors from outside New York State.

But there could be a trade-off. The Met currently receives $26 million from the city each year, according to the Times. If the museum moves ahead with the plan, the city might decide to redirect some of those funds elsewhere.

The Met currently charges a “suggested” adult admission fee of $25. Tickets generated $39 million, or 13% of the museum’s overall revenue, in 2016. The museum’s press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about how much more revenue the new policy might bring.

Because the Met is owned by New York City, the museum and the mayor will have to agree before any fee is put into place. It has also not yet been determined exactly who would be able to continue to visit for free under the new policy: only residents of New York City, or all New York State residents.

The latest discussions are part of a bigger push by the museum to reduce its deficit amid increased scrutiny and a shakeup of its top leadership. The deficit—which now stands at around $15 million, according to the Times—led to layoffs and buyouts of more than 80 staff members last year. The Met also delayed a $600 million renovation of its modern and contemporary wing. In March, its director Thomas Campbell announced he would resign, effective June 30. The institution’s president, Daniel H. Weiss, has taken over as interim CEO.

The price of admission to the Met has long been known to most locals but remained a source of confusion for out-of-town visitors. For years, signs at the admissions desk read that there was a “recommended” price to pay. Last year, the museum settled a long-running class action suit that claimed it was misleading visitors into paying the full $25 recommended fee. The museum changed the language on its signage from “recommended” to “suggested admission.”

That change does appear to have made an impact, however slight, on the Met’s bottom line. Even though attendance is higher than ever, New York magazine reported that admission fees’ contribution to the museum’s total revenue has declined by 3% since 2013.

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