NEW YORK CITY — The Metropolitan Museum of Art, whose pay-what-you-wish entry fee made it the subject of lawsuits by tourists who claimed they were misled by signs that made its $25 suggested admission seem mandatory, has quietly been granted a change to its city lease letting it officially charge an entrance fee.
In the revised lease, signed Thursday, the Commissioner of the City of New York Department of Cultural Affairs gave the museum permission to charge a required fee rather than a suggested admission.
Under the terms of the old lease, which has been in effect since 1878, the museum, which operates on city-owned land, had no legal right to charge people for entry, according to the New York Times.
But museum officials were quick to point out that the official change won't mean any changes for the suggested admission for the time being.
What the amendment does is codify "the pay-what-you-wish policy that the city had authorized in writing for over 40 years," said the Met's senior vice president of public affairs Harold Holzer. "We have no plans to change the structure we have now."
The lease also allows the Met to charge fees for special exhibitions, group tours, educational programs, and events such as classes, shows, and conferences.
Thomas P. Campbell, the Met’s director and CEO, said in a statement, “It’s important to make clear as we sign this amendment that we remain very much committed to maintaining — and further widening — public access to the Museum. At the same time, however, faced with perennial uncertainties about the future funding sources, the Met and the City concluded that it makes sense now to consecrate our longstanding and wholly legal admissions policies.”
But lawyers for tourists who have filed class action lawsuits against the Met arguing that its admissions process was purposefully misleading said the legal changes don't change a thing.
Michael Hiller, an attorney who represents Met patrons who say they were ripped off, said the museum knowingly misled people with their signs, website, and even Groupon coupons — which let people get in for $18 instead of $25 — to give them the impression that the suggested $25 fee was mandatory.
"It doesn't affect the lawsuit at all, at least at this point," Hiller said.
Hiller's law partner, Arthur Weiss, believes that the fact that the museum signed the amendment now shows that they've been charging invalidly since the 1970's, when they began the policy.
"Even if it were valid," Weiss said of the lease, "it doesn't cure the past."