Art museums are picking students’ pockets

Illustration by Sarah Bradbury

By Shani Berenholz

It is true that awe-inspiring works inside museums are worth the average $25 entrance fee. Art allows us to see in mindsets different than our own: it  reveals truths to us about our surroundings, other people and even ourselves. Art teaches us sympathy and develops an understanding of the world.

Over winter break, I went to New York City to visit my friend Victoria Baskett ’17, a recent Lewis & Clark graduate. Neither of us had a lot of money to spare so we decided to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met).

The Met is the largest art museum in the United States and includes artwork from the past 5,000 years and from around the world. When you enter the museum, you first have to pass the front desk with a sign that says “Suggested Admission: the amount you pay is up to you.” It is definitely guilt-inducing, but we passed through free of charge. The museum was massive and, being the classics and history nerds that we are, Victoria and I stuck to the first floor collection of ancient and medieval art. I was not sure what to expect, but it was amazing! There was a section on Aegean art, a beautiful marble sculpture room and even an entire Egyptian temple with a reflecting pool. There was no way we could see everything in one afternoon.

That same week, the Met announced that it would charge a mandatory admission for people visiting from outside of the tri-state region (New York, New Jersey and Connecticut) starting March 1. I felt lucky to see the museum before their policy change, but I also felt sad and angry about the new fee.

In an article posted on Jan. 4, the Met announced that their former pay-as-you-wish policy from 1970 was long overdue for a change. While President and CEO of the Met Daniel H. Weiss made it clear that the museum would continue to be a place of education and learning for New Yorkers, the notion did not hold for those visiting from out-of-state.

“What is clear is that our current pay-as-you-wish policy is no longer sufficient to meet the Museum’s daily operational demands,” Weiss said in a statement. “Paid admissions represent only 14 percent of our overall revenue, one of the lowest percentages among our New York City peers. Moreover, in the past 13 years the number of visitors who pay the full suggested admission has declined by 73 percent.”

I understand that a lot has changed from 1970 and that the cost of museum operations is significant. However, the museum predicts that the admission fee will only affect 31 percent of annual visitors. (The museum gets around seven million visitors a year.) The museum will require adults to pay $25 and students $12.

When I entered the museum, I probably had less than $500 in my bank account. By the end of January, I needed $600 to pay my rent when I got back to school. There was no question about it: if I heard the museum was charging admission while I was visiting New York City, I would not have gone and I would have missed that amazing experience. Even though I care about the arts and agree that it should be paid for, I do not think this is an option for every student.

Personally, it is a luxury that I cannot afford with all of my money going towards rent, food and books for school. I feel like the old lady from those early-2000s commercials, adding every penny into a mason jar labeled “Savings for Retirement,” only my jar would say “Daily Lifeline.” Even the yearly student discount at the Portland Art Museum isn’t something my budget can handle. (For those of you who don’t know, the museum offers a $20 student annual pass, much cheaper than paying $16.99 every visit.)

I am not the only person in this situation either; many of my friends are struggling with the cost of living, in and out of school. Even after graduation, it is still unlikely that I will be able to afford the extra expense of a museum ticket, and more likely that I will be living with my parents for a few months (and maybe even longer).

Once you are not a student, you lose the student discount and ticket prices increase. However, just because I am not a student anymore does not mean that I am not still invested in learning. It is ridiculous for museums to assume that 23 year-olds with no money can pay higher museum fees. This is why I feel that art should be free to students and people in their early twenties. If museums like the Met claim to be an educational establishment and a place of learning, it should be free to all young people interested in learning. Everyone deserve a right to the education that art can bring.

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