The Founder’s Story: Supporting Free Admission For All New Yorkers

What kind of person are you?  Do you move through life serendipitously or do you adhere to goals or otherwise?   For me, the Founder of Free Admission For All New Yorkers, the “connective tissue” has been a sensitivity to “injustice”.  

Before meeting and working for my employer, significant other and then husband [from 1968 until his death in 2013], with whom I lived a life of economic stability, intellectual challenge, social success and emotional growth in a location, for a quarter century, across the street from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, I was born one of five in the housing projects of Brooklyn. My mother was a homemaker and my father a NYC transit patrolman. We lived in two housing projects: first we settled into the City’s Marcy Projects upon my father’s return from WWII’s Navy and, later, we settled into the City’s Dyckman Projects. 

 “Projects” had back then and still carry a “bad reputation.” Parents of classmates of mine were wary of where we lived. As a child, I never quite understood it.  My family felt safe – even part of a community.  And interestingly, we paid more rent than did those who lived in the rent-controlled low-rise buildings around us. But, my mother was unimpressed with wall molding and for a flat wall aesthetic, we all bore the cloud of second class. 

We attended parochial school.  And I never really understood why my parents would let nuns and priests be the “last word” on who my siblings and I were as “people”.  During one report period, an older nun approached my parents during Sunday Mass prior to report cards being distributed and advised them my brother did poorly.   He got one of those “mother stares” suggesting he never again would see her smile.  Yet he got one B+ and the rest A’s.   Sister had been “off”, but my mother let the demented nun’s statement dictate her response 

These may not have seemed like “big things”; rather there were everyday things in my upbringing in the projects of Brooklyn and Manhattan, in an Irish/Italian, Catholic neighborhood that very often bothered me because I found these seemingly small things “unjust” to me and/or to others around me in the community.

So, when I learned in early 2000 during a “neighborhood” meeting for Fifth Avenue residential dwellers held at The Metropolitan Museum of Art when the Museum presented as a fait accompli a planned expansion of its physical plant [to include blasting under the plaza] with its potential safety and environmental impact on its visitors and neighbors (also my neighbors), my “injustice connective tissue” ballooned.  Why should an institutional neighbor foist on residential neighbors a fait accompli plan?  [I was to learn of the Community Board review process looming, but on that night the “right” of the Museum (as a quasi-public institution) to have a more important right than do its residential neighbors repelled.] 

Over the next few years, city leaders, the press, and neighbors too easily in my view belittled my role spearheading a challenge to the Museum’s expansion as a Not-In-My-Backyard [NIMBY] vanity project.  This bias precludes too often in thwarting “those who can” [those with time and financial resources to mount a campaign] from being successful when challenging institutions whose actions impact all New Yorkers, including especially “those who can’t”.    

I grew to learn that NY courts were not the best venue for community challenges.  With the often used “lack of standing” finding [a legal term for being uniquely impacted from the favorable or unfavorable decision], the expenditure of time and money and that citizens of this city, whom I care about most of all, found out only of seeming successes [one lawsuit went to NY’s Appellate Court; in May of 2018 the New York Supreme Court ruled the signage at the Met Museum “confusing”]. Journalists often see the efforts as valuable but limit the reporting to her/his story’s “angle”.   

So, when, during my research about land use regarding the Metropolitan Museum’s expansion mentioned previously, I uncovered an 1878 Lease between NYC and the Museum and Ch. 476 of NYS laws enacted in 1893, mandating that the Museum provide free access to its exhibition halls during particular days and evenings in a week, year round, providing for free access to all New Yorkers to its exhibition halls [no exception for special exhibitions] certain days and hours, year round, in reciprocity for rent free use and annual financial support of City-owned buildings and park land, I knew the Met Museum was not compliant.   

And with this uncovering, and knowing of the Museum’s Pay-What-You-Wish But You-Must-Pay-Something [PWYWBYMPS] admission policy for all visitors [which sought a stated “suggested” or “recommended” admission amount (now $25 for adults), including New Yorkers], my injustice connective tissue again swelled at the seeming preference the Museum receives when it seeks approvals for expansions and increases in suggested admission amounts, for instance, as it in effect covertly violates the contract and law requiring the Museum to provide free admission to New Yorkers in reciprocity for these benefits.  [see the FA Story on this site]  

Especially with the failures in the Courts, the Attorney General’s unwillingness to act to enforce the law and contract mandating New Yorkers’ right to free access and in light of the economic advantage demonstrated for the Met Museum with compliance with the controlling contract and law [see The FA Story at Economic Advantage], I launched FA as an education tool to inform New Yorkers about our rights to free access to the Metropolitan Museum and many of the City’s 12 other park-situated museums and organizations and put in the “court of New Yorker opinion” the opportunity to correct a too-long injustice.  [see The FA Story on this site [see The FA Story at Other Venues For Accountability as well as Expanded Efforts]

Thank you in advance for your willingness to be part of preserving New Yorkers’ right to free admission … now and to come.  

Pat Nicholson, FA Founder

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