It’s not every day that you hear about a museum being sued, but that’s exactly what’s happening to the New York City Metropolitan Museum of Art. Two members of the museum are suing over the Met’s fee policy, claiming that their signage tricks people into thinking admission prices are mandatory when they are not. They say the museum has purposefully misled the public into paying when they don’t actually have to.
The suit is being filed by Theodore Grunewald and Patricia Nicholson, who have been members of the museum for a long time. They surveyed over 360 visitors to the museum and found that 85 percent thought they were “required to pay” the admission fees. Grunewald and Nicholson have filed the lawsuit while pointing to the fact that a law from 1893 states that publicly funded museums using a city-owned building rent-free are required to offer free public access five days and two nights a week.
The museum has been functioning under a “pay what you wish” policy, but Grunewald and Nicholson argue that the sign does not clearly indicate that free access is available. The indication that the fee is “recommended” is in small, fine print at the bottom of signs, a size which most people have overlooked.
“It’s an absolute travesty,” Michael Gross quoted Patricia Nicholson saying of the suit. “The museum was designed to be open to everyone, without regard to their financial circumstances—a public library of art and culture to enrich the lives of the citizenry. But instead, the Museum has been converted into an elite tourist attraction to be enjoyed only by those who can afford to pay expensive and illegal admission fees.”
The fees are steep indeed. One adult “recommended” admission fee is $25, Seniors 65 and older pay $17, Students are $12, and children and members are free. All totaled, the Met has collected over $600 million in admission fees, not including “membership” fees many paid to avoid having to pay what they didn’t realize was a voluntary fee to begin with.