New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art defends admission policy

Thu Apr 4, 2013 5:37pm EDT
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NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is being sued by patrons who say they were tricked into paying a $25 admission fee, said on Thursday its pay-what-you-wish policy is clear and denied it tried to bilk patrons.

A lawsuit filed in March claimed that most visitors to the museum, one of the world's most popular, did not know the $25 fee was recommended, but not required.

The plaintiffs, including a member of the museum and two Czech tourists who bought a ticket, claimed the museum used misleading signs and other techniques to convince its 6 million annual visitors they had to pay to get in. The lawsuit asked for an injunction and unspecified damages for all visitors to the museum who paid with a credit card.

"It inaccurately alleges that the Met deceives the public by not making its long-standing, pay-what-you-wish admission policy clear enough, and asserts that we are violating a nineteenth-century New York State law that once mandated that we be free to the public," museum director Thomas P. Campbell said in a message on its website.

He said the museum has never charged a fixed admission fee or any extra fee for its special exhibitions. A contribution allows visitors to see everything.

Campbell said the recommended fee policy was clearly posted at entrances, on printed materials and on its website. It was approved by New York City's parks administrator more than 40 years ago.

"Should a visitor ask a cashier about the admission policy, the message is always equally clear: the amount is voluntary; please pay what you wish," he said.

The Met, which has an annual operating budget of about $250 million, relies on its members, grants, endowment income, contributions, merchandise and restaurant revenues, as well as admissions, according to the website.

It introduced the suggested contribution policy in the 1970s to cover costs and maintenance of the museum.

Another lawsuit, filed by two museum members, asks the museum to make its admission policy clearer.

(Reporting by Patricia Reaney; additional reporting by Joseph Ax; editing by Stacey Joyce)