Paying for the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The MET announced that visitors who do not live in NY State will soon have to pay a $25 admission fee vs the past pay-as-you-wish fee of the past.  The articles and conversations around this change have been interesting and of course, the common theme is that the museums should be open to all.

The MET had been poorly managed for years with losses in the tens of millions.  That comes as no surprise if anyone spent some time peeking under the hood of most non-profit organizations.  They rarely run with the thought of being fiscally responsible.  They hire expensive consultants to give direction around projects instead of turning to their own staff or board members.  The mindset for many is that they can always go out and raise capital from wealthy donors to make their budget work.  Boards should hold the organization to a balanced budget and that includes being creative in the attempt to be profitable or at least to have no losses.

Museums and parks in most foreign countries are generally free.  The states/countries have a line item in their budgets to make sure that these cultural institutions are open to everyone.  There is wisdom in that, perhaps a civic duty.  Unfortunately, our public budgets can’t even afford to upgrade our transportation which is why our subway tunnels look like something out of 1940 so adding cultural institutions to the budget is not on the to-do list.  These institutions are kept running through private funding, from donors, from visitors and if they are lucky, foundations.  Also, the cultural institutions in NYC and I would assume throughout our country, make it their mission to engage the under-served communities around them to make them part of the programs they run.

When I was involved with school activities and we created the pay-as-you-wish fee, we found that the first year that we instated that rule, we made more cash.  It was the importance of embracing everyone to participate regardless of their income so the school activities could be true community events.  We were very transparent about why we had this kind of payment system.  If the MET, and others, espoused that it was private money that kept the doors open and to change the conversation, perhaps the pay-as-you-wish fee would work in their favor.  I wonder if people who travel here from around the globe even understand that their dollars are how the doors stay open.  We support the arts by belonging to almost every cultural organization in the city because I know that our donations go to the bottom line.

This change at the MET is indicative of one of my pet peeves about non-profit organizations and cultural institutions which is poor fiscal management, lack of transparency and not being able to think out of the box.  It is the people who can’t afford to walk in those doors that miss out and it is more than unfortunate, it is sad.