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What’s Up with Museum Admission Fees?

cc Pat Gulney

Museum ticketing structures have been hotly debated since the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced changes to its traditional “pay-as-you-will” admission fee. Under the new system, non-New York residents are required to pay $25 for museum admission, which will include all special exhibitions. (Per an agreement with the city, the Met is required to offer New York residents free admission in exchange for the use of city-owned buildings and city-generated tax revenue.) So this has us thinking, what’s the deal with museum admission fees, and why do they matter?

The Met’s argument for the new system is pretty simple: requiring the admission fee will provide a reliable revenue stream for the museum. Admission currently comprises about 2% of the museum’s revenue, which is projected to increase to 3% in the course of the year. As the Met has seen historic financial troubles the past two years, consistent revenue could help the institution turn things around in the coming years.

Those angered by the plan don’t believe admissions constitute enough of the budget to counter the negative effects of the new policy. They have argued that expensive ticketing structures, similar to those at MoMA and the Guggenheim, prevent those who typically can’t afford the arts from visiting. It also reinforces the idea that such museums are elitist, which prevents many people, even locals, from visiting. Opponents have also argued that the Met, which has had very public financial problems, should not be able to punish visitors for mistakes made by the board.

The Met is not the only museum to face such criticisms – many arts advocates argue that all museum admission fees are exclusionary and should be eliminated or minimized whenever possible. The situation at the Met has simply brought the issue to the forefront of the museum world once again. What do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments, and we hope to talk about more such issues at the Symposium!

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