The Met Museum is a public-private partnership insofar as its collection is owned by the Trustees of the Museum but resides in public buildings atop public park land. The Museum is not, as some have stated, similar to the national Smithsonian institution, in that the Museum’s treasures are not federal- owned.
The “Founding Fathers” of the Museum, in the mid-19th century “immigration era,” spoke to the city’s aspiration to elevate and educate its citizenry. They described their vision for the Museum as one that would transform Central Park from what was then largely a private preserve for the city’s elite, to a democratic city-wide “educational campus” open to all, and where all were welcome.
At that time, Central Park was indeed used most often by the city’s wealthy, who are often seen in aging photographs casually strolling its grounds in formal dress – bustles and bow ties – symbols of lives lived in leisure. With this new “cultural partnership”, this new public-private Museum would belong to an “educational campus” and “cultural partnership” where all NYers would now for the first time stroll its grounds and come and go from this institution for the single purpose of education, none more so than the poor and many, many immigrants who were up until that important moment, left out.