A December 24, 1878 Lease provided that in reciprocity for rent-free tenancy in a city-built Central Park building [the initial building was 60,000 sq. ft. while today the Museum occupies 2,000,000+ sq. ft. of sprawling, inter-connected buildings], the Museum must provide free of charge admission to New Yorkers as follows:
FOURTHLY. That the exhibition halls of said building shall on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday of each week, and on all legal and public holidays except Sundays, be kept open and accessible to the public1 free of charge from ten o’clock AM until half an hour before sunset under such rules and regulations as [the Museum] shall form time to time prescribe; but on the remaining days of the week the same shall be only open for exhibition to such persons and upon such terms as [the Museum] shall from time to time direct. But all professors and teachers of the public schools of the City of New York or other institutions of learning in said City in which instruction is given free of charge shall be admitted to all the advantages offered by [the Museum] through its Museum, library, apparatus and collections or otherwise, for study, research, and investigation, free of any charge therefore, and to the same extent and on the same terms and conditions as any other persons are admitted to such advantages as aforesaid. [emphasis added]
1 Given the timeframe of 1878 and the exclusion for schools of the City of New York to special use, while respecting that passage was by the NY State legislature, at best the “public”, in FA’s view, is the “State” of New York and at the least, the “City” of New York.
Founders of the Museum were Sunday Sabbath worshippers and, accordingly, provided for Sunday closure in the original 1878 Lease. However, the “working class” New Yorker wanted worthwhile [non-work day] access and so they campaigned for Sunday and evening openings. [At the time, the press reported on this campaign calling it “the Sunday Question”.] In 1892, Ch. 419, of the Law of New York State providing year-round free admission passed the legislature. However, Museum founders feared the City would fail to budget enough dollars for its operations, and in 1893 sought legislative relief to permit it to charge an admission fee two days in the week. Ch. 476 of the Laws of 1893 amended Ch. 419 and provided for what each of the Museum’s founders and New Yorkers sought, as follows:
# 1. The Department of Public Parks in the City of New York is hereby authorized to apply in each year for the keeping, preservation and exhibition of the collections in the buildings in Central Park that are now or may be hereafter occupied by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, … upon condition that the collections in the said Metropolitan Museum of Art shall be kept open and accessible to the public hereafter free of all charge throughout the year for five days in each week, one of which shall be Sunday afternoon, and also for two evenings in each week, within such hours and subject to such rules and regulations as may be determined by the Trustees of said Museum; and provided furthermore, that on the two days in each week during which said Museum may remain closed to the general public, it shall be open and accessible to art students, copyists and schools, within such hours and subject to such rules and regulations as may be determined by the Trustees of said Museum. [emphasis added]
The Museum and the City seemingly complied with Ch. 476 until 1970 by charging a fee only two days in the week to all visitors, including New Yorkers. [The Museum had not met the two evenings a week mandate, however.] But, when the Museum reported in its 1970 Annual Report that a “discretionary” admission fee to all visitors would be charged to help “supplement income”, it became clear that the Museum and City leaders had not considered interpretation of the existing Lease and Law.
In this regard, the Museum introduced its pay-what-you-wish but you-must-pay-something [PWYWBYMPS] admission policy for all visitors. [The NYC Council condemned the policy calling it an “admission fee in the guise of a voluntary contribution”. (Res. No. 334, December 15, 1970)]
Undaunted, the Museum fought back negative commentary because, it said, a “voluntary” fee could be as little as "a penny" despite the Museum publicizing a “suggested” or “recommended” amount and the resultant notion that proper entry warranted that amount. Additionally, in her Opinion, Judge Kornreich found that the Museum is virtually free because you can pay a penny. [Judge Kornreich in effect legislated from the bench.] And in the wake of these attitudes, and for nearly five decades, New Yorkers, unwilling or unable to pay the “suggested” amount, avoided visiting the Museum because of the PWYWBYMPS recommended or suggested fee policy.