The Metropolitan Museum of Art hit a milestone last week: in the first full fiscal year, which was fiscal year 2019 (FY19), of its controversial new admission policy, the museum broke 7 million visitors. Across its three locations, The Met Fifth Avenue, The Cloisters, and The Met Breuer, the conglomerate of museums marked the third year in a row that the museum broke the 7 million mark. The first year it did so in its 40-year history of recording the number of guests was 2016 with 7.01 million visitors.
After FY19 came to a close on June 30th, the museum announced its attendance record in a press release from July 10th. Max Hollein, director of the Met since last year, chalked the success of the year up to the exhibitions and programming offered by the museum saying: ‘The Met’s collection, exhibitions, and programs offer powerful ways to experience more than five millennia of art. Every day, people in our galleries are reconnecting with the familiar, encountering the new, and appreciating some of the greatest examples of artistic excellence and cultural achievement in the world.’ Those exhibitions included ‘Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll’ and ‘Camp: Notes on Fashion,’ both of which are still on view and the latter of the two was the theme of the 2019 Met Gala.
In January of 2018, the Met announced that it would begin charging non-New York visitors a mandatory $25 for adults ($17 for seniors and $12 for students), the first time in the museum’s 50-year history that it strayed from its pay-as-you-wish policy. At the time of the announcement, the plan caught a lot of flak but continued as planned and was put into effect in March of 2018. The success of FY19 shows that despite the hefty admittance fee, visitors are still want to tour the halls of the iconic New York City institution.
While successful in FY19, the finer numbers do show that the new admission cost may have affected the overall reach of the museum. In the end, FY19 saw 350,000 less visitors than fiscal year 2018 (FY18), which holds the museum’s record for the highest annual attendance. During FY18, the museum featured major exhibitions including ‘Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer,’ which attracted 702,516 visitors and ‘David Hockney,’ which brought in another 363, 877 visitors. FY18 also included the first two months of ‘Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,’ which became the museum’s leading blockbuster exhibition with 1.6 million visitors, beating the previous record held by the 1978 ‘Treasures of Tutankhamun.’
During FY19, the proportion of local visitors to out-of-town guests shifted. In the press release, it stated that over the last year, 28% of their guests were international and those who would pay, which was down by 7% from FY18, while New York City residents accounted for 35% of the museum’s attendance, up ever so slightly from 32% the previous year.
While the museum continues to hang onto its 7 million-plus records, the next year may give more insight as to the last impact of its relatively new admission policy. Or, perhaps, its exhibitions will prove too attractive to let the price tag stand in the way.