Skip to navigationSkip to content
Keith Bedford/Reuters
Signage update.
FINE DESIGN

How better signs can help New York’s Met museum fix its vague admissions policy

By Anne Quito

One of the most visited museums in the world is about to become even more accessible. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City announced on Friday (Feb. 26) that it will settle a three-year-old class action lawsuit challenging its vague “pay-as you wish” admission policy.

To coincide with the opening of its new satellite location on Madison Avenue and 75th Street next month, the museum says that it will update the language on all its signs, kiosks, and websites from “recommended admission” to “suggested admission.” The admission policy on The Met’s website currently states the recommended prices of $25 for adults, $17 for seniors and $12 for students. It makes no mention of the fact that visitors can access its incredible collection of over two million works of art for as little as a penny.

The Met agreed back in the 19th century to keep its doors “open and accessible to the public hereafter free of all charge throughout the year,” in exchange for initial funding and free lease along Central Park from the City of New York, as outlined in the facts of the lawsuit.

“All of our recent branding and marketing work has been aimed at simplifying our message of welcome to the public and emphasizing that we are accessible to the widest possible audience—now at three locations,” Met director and CEO Thomas P. Campbell said in a Feb. 26 press release. “The new admission signs will represent another step in this effort.”

The sign’s design

As anyone who’s paused in confusion at The Met’s ticket counter can attest, the lack of clarity about admissions fees can be attributed not just to vague language but to the layout of the sign itself. The current sign prominently displays the recommended entrance fees but relegates the phrase “Recommended admission” to a much smaller font.

This can be perplexing for the more than six million art-lovers who visit the museum each year, including foreign travelers such as Czech residents Filip Saska and Tomá Nadrchal. The pair filed the lawsuit against the museum, along with Manhattan resident Stephen Michelman, in 2013. A similar lawsuit was filed against The Met by two of its members, Theodore Grunewald and Patricia Nicholson, in 2012. Both complaints cited the museum’s breach of its agreement with the city.

The Met, which recently unveiled a new logo, plans to keep the design of its admission sign essentially the same, the museum’s vice president of communications Elyse Topalian tells Quartz. But the phrase “Suggested admission” will be displayed in a larger typeface and will be placed prominently atop the stacked list of entrance fees. The sentence “The amount you pay is up to you” will be also appear on the sign in order to make The Met’s policy even more explicit.

The Met does require visitors to contribute. In order to allay a serious budget deficit in the 1970s, the museum received permission from the city to post signs that read “Pay as you wish, but you must pay something.”

With an operating deficit of $7.7 million last year, according to The Met’s latest annual report (pdf), the museum hopes that admission fees will continue to help defray the expenses for its programs. The penultimate line on the new signage, as Topalian describes, reads like an appeal. It says, “Please be as generous as you can.”