Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Is MOMA required to be free to its visitors?

In last few weeks or so, a lawsuit by one of the MOMA's Fifth Avenue neighbors, has been in news. It alleges the Met deceives people by failing to clarify on its long-standing admission policy of ‘pay-what-you-wish’, asserting the New York-based museum is violating a State law that from nineteenth-century once mandated that it must be free to the visitors.

This then was followed by another legal action from the same law firm, which sought monetary damages. In an effort to communicate its viewpoint to its audience and patrons about its admission policy, and its origin, MOMA director Thomas P Campbell, has released a detailed note on the site. Its key points are as follows:
  • A recommended or suggested admission structure was instituted only after the Museum received approval from New York City's Administrator of Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs over four decades ago. No current State legislation requires it the Museum to be free to the public.
  • The recommended admission policy is clearly posted at all entry points to the Museum's Main Building and The Cloisters, on all printed materials, and on our website. Should a visitor ask a cashier about the admission policy, the message is always equally clear: the amount is voluntary; please pay what you wish! So why did the Met introduce suggested contributions in the early 1970s?
  • Well, the Met is now twice the size and must fund the maintenance of far more expansive galleries and a significantly larger collection, visited by three or four times as many people. Our costs—everything from guards to insurance to publications—have increased commensurately with this growth. Even so, the Met has never imposed a fixed admission fee. Nor do we ever charge an extra fee to visit any of our world-renowned special exhibitions.
  • The current Met operating budget is some $250 million a year. We rely on many sources—including Membership, gifts and grants, corporate contributions, merchandise sales, restaurant revenue, and endowment income—to meet these annual expenses, and admission revenue is critical among them.
  • The City of New York, direct government assistance and energy subsidies now constitute only 11% of our income. The fact is, even if future Museum admission rates were fixed at $25, the Met would still be underwriting the expense of every visit, which on average costs the institution more than $40.
We're proud of our long-standing commitment to both accessibility and scholarship, the director concludes, adding ‘we now must call upon all our resources for defending a policy designed specifically to make the collections available to public, regardless of one’s ability to pay.

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