OK, this is a little off the beaten arts track in Arkansas, but I am happy at the news that the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “pay what you wish (but you must pay something)” admission policy has been upheld by a New York court. The policy had been challenged by museum goers who contended that the museum’s lease and an agreement with the city — both dating to the 19th century — mean the museum had to charge admission.
Supreme Court Judge Shirley Werner Kornreich wrote:
“For those without means, or those who do not wish to express their gratitude financially, a de minimis contribution of a penny is accepted,” the judge wrote. “Admission to the Met is de facto free for all.” To end the suggested admission practice — visitors pay, on average, around $11 of the full $25 suggested fee — would cut a large portion of the museum’s budget and undermine its mission to provide access and educate the public, she added.
I believe in free admission — and when the Arts Center started charging for its special exhibitions in the not too distant past, it made me a little uncomfortable. The mission of the Arts Center is to educate and elevate and some admissions fees meant that not every Arkansan could take advantage of the Arkansas Arts Center. At one time there was a donation box in the lower lobby. But even the vastly endowed Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art charges admission for its special exhibits. You’ve got to keep the lights on.
The Met’s policy was instituted in 1970. At the time, it meant that you could pay a quarter and go in, and many of us students at the time did just that. It was a huge topic of conversation. I boarded a bus once on Madison Avenue and heard the bus driver answer a question about the fare, “Pay what you wish but you must pay something,” and the passengers exploded in laughter.