March 25, 2013

NYC art museum accused of duping visitors on fees

Confusion over what's required to enter one of the world's great museums is at the heart of a class-action lawsuit this month.

Ula Ilnytzky / The Associated Press

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The Metropolitan Museum is one of the world's richest cultural institutions, with a $2.58 billion investment portfolio, and isn't reliant on admissions fees to pay the majority of its bills.

AP

"The idea that the museum is free to everyone who doesn't wish to pay has not been in force for nearly 40 years," Holzer said, adding, "Yes, you do have to pay something."

As to the wording change on the sign, he said the museum "actually thought at the time, and still thinks, that 'recommended' is softer than 'suggested,' so the former employee is quite wrong here."

New York City's Department of Cultural Affairs agreed to the museum's request in 1970 for a general admission as long as the amount was left up to individuals and that the signage reflected that. Similar arrangements are in place for other cultural institutions that operate on city-owned land and property and receive support from the city, such as the American Museum of Natural History and the Brooklyn Museum. It's also a model that's been replicated in other cities.

The Metropolitan Museum is one of the world's richest cultural institutions, with a $2.58 billion investment portfolio, and isn't reliant on admissions fees to pay the majority of its bills. Only about 11 percent of the museum's operating expenses were covered by admissions charges in the 2012 fiscal year. As a nonprofit organization, the museum pays no income taxes.

Holzer also noted that in the past fiscal year, 41 percent of visitors to the Met paid the full recommended admission price — $25 for adults, $17 for seniors and $12 for students.

A random sampling of visitors leaving the museum found that there was a general awareness that "recommended" implied you could pay less than the posted price.

But Dan Larson and his son Jake, visiting the museum last week from Duluth, Minn., were unaware there was any room to negotiate the admission price. They paid the full $25 each for adult tickets.

"My understanding was you pay the recommended price," said Larson, 50. "That's clearly not displayed."

Alexander Kulessa, a 23-year-old university student from Germany, said friends who had previously visited New York tipped him off about the admission fee.

"They said, 'Don't pay $25,'" said Kulessa. "They said it will be written everywhere to pay $25 but you don't have to pay that. You don't even have to pay the student price."

For Colette Leger, a tourist from Toronto who visited the museum with her teenage daughter, paying the full $25 was worth every penny.

"It's a beautiful museum and I was happy to pay," she said.

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