Last week, New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs announced that $2.8 million received by the Metropolitan Museum of Art (due to their change in admission policy), would go to benefit 175 smaller NYC cultural institutions. This announcement seems positive and altruistic, but is also a bit of a surprise. Marabou felt compelled to revisit the admission policy change from last year and trace the steps from then until now.
In January 2018, the Met changed its admission policy from pay-as-you-wish for all visitors to charging $25 mandatory admission to anyone living outside of New York state. Pay-as-you-wish would remain available for residents of New York State and students from Connecticut and New Jersey. The change was implemented in March and was widely interpreted as a move to increase revenue for the institution, which made a number of financial missteps under the leadership of former Met Director, Thomas Campbell. A Met press release from January 4, 2018 has no mention of donating admissions income to other institutions. The tone and message of the release is summed up in a quote from New York City Council Cultural Affairs and Libraries Committee Chair, Jimmy Van Bramer, “Most important, today’s announcement ensures that we keep The Met open and accessible for all New Yorkers and their families, while guaranteeing that one of our cornerstone cultural institutions is financially sound for the foreseeable future.” However, this reallocation of income from the Met’s new admission policy appears to have always been part of the plan, per a March 18, 2019 press release from NYC Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA).
Here is Marabou’s summary of how Met admissions policy change in 2018 has resulted in the Met providing $2.8 million for redistribution in 2019:
- The City of New York owns the Met’s building and granted the Met permission to change its admission policy in 2018. It was agreed that the Met would give the City 30% of the revenue it received from increasing admission price, with a ceiling of $3 million.
- The revenue from the admissions price hike would serve a number of purposes including:
- raise more more money to cover the Met’s $305 million operating budget.
- increasingly reduce the City subsidy received by the Met to cover operational costs for security and building staff (the FY2019 subsidy was $11.9 million). As the Met is able to cover these expenses through admission revenue, it frees up more City money to allocate to other institutions.
- Directly provide funding for the City’s Cultural Development Fund to groups who are “located in or provide services to high-need neighborhoods identified by the Social Impact of the Arts Project’s report “Culture and Social Wellbeing in New York City,” and Cultural Institutions Groups located in underserved communities.
According to the the New York Times, this year’s recipients include, Harlem Stage in Manhattan, Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens, St. George Theater in Staten Island, El Museo del Barrio, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning, and children’s museums in Brooklyn and Staten Island.
Perhaps the initial lack of publicity around the Met and City of New York’s agreement to raise admission prices and use a percentage of that money for public good was to wait and see if the plan would work. Knowing what this looks like and how it operates behind the scenes would provide even greater insight on effectiveness. But for what is currently understood, Marabou sees value in this initiative. It’s a step toward reimagining how funds can be redistributed, a step towards figuring out how to make economic equity a reality in the cultural sector. Marabou still has a lot of questions and is interested to see how this all plays outs.
The DCLA has provided a full list of the 175 institutions (and the amounts they received) who benefited from the Met’s admissions redistribution.