is in a spot of financial trouble. In April, the institution announced it was running an operating deficit of some $10 million, and that the figure could spiral to as much as $40 million if no action was taken. This hole isn’t life-threatening—the museum has an endowment in the billions—but numerous employees at the museum will either take buyouts or lose their jobs. Exhibition programing will, in some way, be impacted.
You may be scratching your head asking how a museum that welcomed 6.7 million visitors this past fiscal year (measured from July 1 to June 30) wound up in the red. But the Met’s admission is pay-what-you-wish, meaning visitors can fork over as much or little as they’d like to get in. That’s compared to other New York City institutions that charge a set ticket price upwards of $20. And who among us has not gained entry to the Met’s incredible collection with the mere change in one’s pocket?
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.
Before we go in any deeper, a necessary if obvious preface: This is a complex topic. I’m not attempting to determine the source of the Met’s deficit. It is likely connected to multiple different factors, and the museum’s detailed financial report on this fiscal year isn’t released until November. Instead, I’m looking at a very isolated relationship—between revenue from admission per visitor and surplus/deficit—amid a sea of variables.
And that sea of variables is a stormy one. The deficit has grown steadily over the last few years, from $3.5 million in fiscal year 2014, to $7.7 million in fiscal year 2015, and to $10 million in fiscal year 2016. And as a New York Times
piece by Robin Pogrebin has pointed out
, the Met has made numerous ambitious financial plays over the last few years that are probably related to the current financial situation. Interestingly, along with the usual suspects (ambitious building projects, the Met Breuer), Pogrebin notes a softening of the Met’s admission language—from “recommended” to “suggested.” It’s a hint that museum go-ers and their wallets could be a factor.
There isn’t recent enough data available to know if the switch from “recommended” to “suggested” made a difference (though that will be something to watch for.) For now, with the historical data available, let's look at the numbers to see what we can glean.
Here’s a graph of the Met’s revenue per visitor from 2009 to 2015: