More on the Met's Admission-Fee Hike: Lessons in Pricing and Etiquette

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art

On Friday, I promised to expand upon this post about the entirely predictable kerfuffle over the Metropolitan Museum’s announced $5 increase in its suggested admission fee ($25, effective July 1).

I never heard what soundbite New York Public Radio did (or didn’t) use from my 10-minute Friday conversation on this topic with WNYC‘s reporter. But the main point (aside from the crucial fact that the increase is NO increase for anyone who doesn’t choose to pay it) is that the Met has, thus far, resisted the trend towards exacting additional fees for major special exhibitions—a mandatory charge imposed by many other institutions.

The required outlay for special exhibitions can, for many visitors, seem cost-prohibitive, like the hefty $25 pricetag for the Art Gallery of Ontario’s current Abstract Expressionist New York (scroll down), an easily assembled greatest-hits show (supplemented by some less iconic works) from the collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

The Met is, however, exacting a whopping $50 fee from those well-heeled fashionistas who want to attend its Alexander McQueen show on Mondays, when the museum is closed to the public. With its elitist vibe, that rich-people-only barrier to attending a popular show irritates me more than the Met’s optional $5 general admissions increase.

Whatever the “economic necessity” (as the Met called it), increasing fees at a time when many people are struggling with reduced income is not a brilliant public-relations move. The expected backlash has, in fact, occurred, with Emma Allen on ArtInfo channeling the NY Timesdesignated tightwad, Randy Kennedy, by offering $9 to “the craggy-faced…ladies at the ticket counter, only to find that
old Miss Havisham is shooting laser beams of disapproval at me from her
cloudy, Tiresian eyes.”

The obvious antidote for such confrontations is for museumgoers to undergo assertiveness training. (Who really cares what the ticket sellers think? Rembrandt awaits!) Also, these scattered reports of discourtesy at the ticket counter indicate that the Met needs to give its gatekeepers a crash course in etiquette. There’s no excuse for making museum visitors feel unwelcome or inferior, no matter what the size of their outlays.

One Met fee increase that other reporters haven’t picked up on (but which affects me directly, because I arrive by car) is the Met’s recent discontinuance of parking discounts in its garage that were previously available to all its visitors. (The general public also uses the parking facility.)

The parking discount is now offered only to museum members (scroll down). For a two-hour stay (actually, for any stay between 61 and 120 minutes), that means non-members pay $24, instead of $19. (I mentioned my sticker-shock to the press office, which now permits me to get my ticket validated for the discounted rate when I visit for press previews. As an arts journalist, I am also granted free museum admission, without any dirty looks.)

It takes a business writer to come up with the most intelligent take on the question of admission pricing. In his NY Times column analyzing the Met’s last admissions hike (up $5 to $20 in 2006), David Leonhardt wrote:

The point of all these versions of variable pricing is the same. The people selling the product want to attract as large a crowd as they can while still getting the maximum amount of money from each customer….The full price—the one that would scare away bargain hunters if it were the only option—is reserved for customers able to pay….

This plan…seems about as wise as is likely to happen.

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