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Met Museum considers mandatory admission fees amid budget woes

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Officials have proposed admission fees for non-New Yorkers

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The financial problems that have led the Metropolitan Museum of Art to halt its planned $600 million expansion may lead to another big change for the iconic institution: According to the New York Times, the museum is now considering a mandatory admission fee, to be applied to non-New York residents.

The Met’s current $25 admission fee is merely a suggestion, with visitors often choosing to pay less than the full price. But with a huge budget deficit and intense scrutiny on the institution’s operational woes, museum officials are looking at every option that might help close the gap—including charging visitors.

There’s a precedent for such a policy at comparable institutions: The Art Institute of Chicago has reduced admission for Chicago and Illinois residents, while charging out-of-towners a full $25; the Louvre, which is a public institution like the Met, charges visitors $16, while EU residents under the age of 26 can enter for free.

And plenty of people do: the museum received about $39 million in admission fees in 2016, or 13 percent of its $332 million operating costs.

But there are a few potential issues with a fee model for the Met, including—but not limited to—the fact that the city mandates that the Met “shall be kept open and accessible to the public free of all charge throughout the year,” according to an 1893 statute establishing funding for the museum. The museum began its suggested admission policy in the 1970s, but in theory, it remains free for those who choose not to pay.

How the fee would be enforced is up for debate—as the Times puts it, “What about people who commute every day into the city for work and consider themselves New Yorkers? And how would residency be established at the front desk?” (Asking for ID seems like one way to do it, but that’s a whole other can of worms to open up.)

There’s also the optics of asking for a mandatory fee: the Met has already faced criticism—and even lawsuits—over whether or not its suggested admission policy is clear to all visitors. (This led the museum to change its signs last year in order to clarify its pricing structure.)

David Weiss, the Met’s president, told the Times that the institution is “looking at everything to bridge our budget deficit, including the pricing structure we have with the city, which is something we have done throughout our history.”

And the city appears willing to discuss the proposal; Ben Sarle, from Mayor de Blasio’s office, told the Times that “The Met is one of our most beloved, historic New York cultural institutions, and we are ready to work with them to make sure they have the resources they need to thrive.”

Metropolitan Museum of Art

1000 5th Ave., New York, NY 10028