Artsy’s Isaac Kaplan has an odd post on the management of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Setting himself the task of isolating the Met’s revenue from admissions to determine whether the museum’s operating deficit comes from a dearth of voluntary contributions, Kaplan discovers that, no, the admissions policy is not to blame:
So the question becomes: Are stingy visitors to blame for the current deficit?
After playing around with some of the numbers, I don’t think so—at least not any more so than in years past. I took a look at the Met’s financials from fiscal years 2009 to 2015 to see if there is some connection between the average revenue received per person admitted to the museum and the institution’s surplus or deficit, year to year.
Having asked and refuted his own question, Kaplan ignores some of the interesting and important questions behind his inquiry. What Kaplan was hoping to find was a decline in admissions revenue that would somehow magically match the deficit that has forced the Met to layoff staff.
What he discovered was a remarkably steady stream of visitors and a per visitor revenue stream of around $6. What Kaplan doesn’t tell us is that the Met’s 6m yearly visitors has been more consistent and steadier than its global rivals like the Louvre and Tate Modern which have seen fluctuations of as much as 500,000 museum goers in any given year.
Closer to the issue at hand, Kaplan was fishing for evidence that cheap attendees skirting the Met’s pricing guidelines were somehow at fault for the institution’s deficit. A more likely culprit is hiring and management choices by the Met’s administrators that left it unable to catch up on the shortfall.
An even starker issue lurking around the subject is the fact that the Met’s pricing and admission’s policy is highly constrained by a long history. Curiously, Kaplan ignores the well-chronicled 2013 lawsuit against the Central Park landmark over the wording of its admission policy.
As that suit showed, and museum director Thomas Campbell explains in this blog post in response, the Met cannot simply charge more money from visitors to close a budget gap. Admissions are the result of a compromise between the City and State of New York and the museum to allow it to recoup some of the costs of running the museum. But the Met can only recommend or now suggest what a visitor pay.
Would it be great if all of those tourists felt a spontaneous fit of generosity and paid the full price? It surely would. But Campbell and the museum’s board are in no position to count on that as a way to modulate or increase revenue.