MET Admission Increases Should be a Temporary Fix to a Larger Problem

What comes to mind when we think of New York? There’s Washington Square Park, yellow cabs, hot dog salesmen and the topic of this article — the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or Met for short.
I actually visited the Met last summer — and I had a complete nerd meltdown. I’ve always been in love with Greco-Roman history, mythology and art. There was nothing more romantic than seeing the tableaux of men and women cut into the immortal surface of marble. The Met is a gorgeous, grand beaux-arts building with an outstanding variety of exhibitions on art and history. It is truly an invaluable experience to be surrounded by so much rare and incomparable art.

Unfortunately, my beloved experience won’t be able to be shared with everyone as easily due to recent admission policy changes. The museum has been experiencing a lot of unfortunate circumstances. This past decade has had three different directors for the Met. Debt has been rapidly rising to $40 million. Partly to blame is the administration’s focus on trying to attract the millennial generation through an excessive marketing campaign. A satellite museum, Met Breuer, has also been a significant draw on resources. The Met will no longer be able to celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2020 with a new $600 million wing dedicated to modern and contemporary art. So, to compensate, starting in March, the Met will start having out-of-state visitors pay $25 dollars for admission, a departure from its current “pay as you wish” model. Neighboring museums contributing to these woes already have similar admission prices. However, the Met’s move to balance their finances has been met with a lot of controversy.

In theory, charging for admission could bring a lot of revenue which supports jobs, expansions, preservation and everything else that is essential for the museum. I’m all for a brief period of increasing income to settle debts but there must be restraint. Yes, the Met will benefit and create a profit. However, at a certain point the economic barrier will deter individuals from coming because of the existence. Furthermore, it will also result in a loss in profits because of the decrease of people visiting.

The problem is that America has a culture of maximizing profits for the pleasure of board members. What has to be realized is that not everything has to be treated like a Fortune 500 environment. According to the NY Post, just a few Met executives receive nearly $4 million as compensation. Instead of reducing their own income, there has been reduction to employee benefits as well as firings and a hiring freeze. These excessive incomes contributed to the $8.3 million deficit that in 2016. Wouldn’t it make sense, at least till the budget is balanced, to have austere financial measures directed at these executives to prevent staff at the lower levels from suffering?

While it may seem that the Met is in dire straights, you shouldn’t be too worried. The New York Times reported that “[The president] Mr. Campbell said the Met is “on track” to balance the budget by 2020.” Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services affirmed that the Met retains a AAA rating for its ability to pay back debts — which is better than the US government’s own rating of AA+. This is significant because it means that the institution can securely gain and pay back its loans.

The Met is protected with a few additional variables. First, it is property of the city of New York, thus the city is responsible for a significant portion of the costs to run it. However, the city governance has been diverting resources for the sake of uplifting other museums in the region. On the other hand, the board members of the Met consist of some of the richest people in the world. Individuals like Richard Chilton Jr. and Russell Carlson are some of the billionaires who have the capital to easily pull the Met out of any financial crisis by gifting an endowment.

Ultimately, the Met may have simply overextended itself over the past decade. Steps like reducing the number of annual exhibits have been proven to be successful in cutting costs. Furthermore, the Met Breuer is being considered as unnecessary and too costly and there seems to be a push to place more emphasis on the original building. The $600 million renovation has also had some fat trimmed and a more humble $450 million plan is currently in the works. Recently, the Met received a $80 million dollar endowment from the Irving family which more than amply covers the deficit. While the $25 ticket price is unfortunate, hopefully the Met treats it as a temporary measure so that the museum can go back to be a free resource of art for the world.

Syrus Sadvandi is third-year international studies major. He can be reached at ssadvand@uci.edu.