Manager Says Museum Cashiers Trained to Mislead Visitors

Cashiers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art were paid in part based on how much they collected at the door and management discouraged them from disclosing that the price of admission can be as little as one cent, a former employee said in a sworn affidavit.

The statement was filed in late June to support a lawsuit challenging the museum’s “recommended” admission, which is now $25 for adults.

Since 1970, anyone visiting can “pay what you wish, but you must pay something,” the Met said in papers filed in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan.

In their complaint, New Yorkers Theodore Grunewald and Patricia Nicholson said the Met deceives the public and violates an 1893 state law requiring the museum be open without charge five days a week in exchange for free use of city land.

Gerald Lee Jones said he worked at the museum from 2007 to 2011, mostly supervising cashiers. They were instructed to never volunteer that visitors may pay less than the “recommended” fee, he said.

Original Lease

“Cashiers are not only trained to avoid disclosing the truth about the museum’s admission prices; their compensation and their continued employment may largely depend on them not revealing it,” Jones said in court papers.

Harold Holzer, the Met senior vice president for public affairs, described Jones as “one of many floor managers” and said Jones’ description of his job is “glib spin on his experience here.”

The museum tracks what cashiers collect because auditors require it, Holzer said in an interview.

“It has nothing to do with performance evaluation or salary,” Holzer said. “We at the museum contest in the strongest terms the allegations in the Gerald Jones affidavit. The Met will offer its responses in due course.”

In 1970, New York City first waived the free-admissions provision of its original lease with the museum, the Met said. Officials repeatedly approved increases in the suggested fee.

But the city never formally amended the lease that required the museum be free to the public five days a week, the Met acknowledged in court papers.

Michael Hiller, a lawyer for Grunewald and Nicholson, said in court papers that instead of “serving the masses” who pay for the Met through taxes, it’s become “an elite attraction for tourists and wealthy benefactors.”

In the year ending in June 2012, admissions brought in $37.8 million, about 16 percent of the Met’s revenue, including contributions and endowment income, according to its annual report.

The Met began “pay-what-you-wish” in 1970, in response to rising operating costs and a declining proportion of funding from the city government, it said in an April motion to dismiss the suit.

Initially it was a six-month experiment. August Heckscher, administrator for the parks department at the time, insisted in a 1970 letter to the Met that the “amount of the admission fee is left entirely to the individual’s discretion and that advice to that effect be conspicuously posted,”

In his affidavit, Jones said that tourists in particular were confused by the recommended fee and most paid in full.

The case is Grunewald and Nicholson v. the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 158002/2012, New York State Supreme Court (Manhattan).

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