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What can we learn from the Met “unbuttoning”?

What can we learn from the Met “unbuttoning”?

Today, I learned that the Met is making two major shifts in its visitor experience. First, it will be open on Mondays! This is a very significant change for the Met, since NYC museums are usually closed on Mondays. No longer is there a day to “recover” for the staff and the facilities. The Met will now be available 7-days a week. Sadly, this exciting change was overshadowed by a NY Times article in today’s paper. Instead of celebrating more opportunities to enjoy the great artifacts and works of art from every continent and all people, the focus was about the admission buttons going away.

I will admit I like those buttons. It’s a public announcement once you descend those majestic stairs to 5th Avenue that you engaged with a sophisticated art collection that day. It’s sort of like the horse head on my Jordache jeans in 6th grade; a subtle sign to everyone that you are culturally/socially in. This may seem ridiculous, but the article speaks to this type of label identification or simply put – showing off. And several of the comments posted about the article speak to this as well.

What drove me to post this article is not the lack of social symbol I will no longer have when I enjoy a fabulous costume exhibit and sip a glass of champagne from the rooftop with friends. Or the sense of pride the third graders I took the Met this winter had when they showed off these buttons to the younger kids who did not join us on the field trip to see Warhol’s works first hand. Instead, what grabbed me were the small-minded – or shall I say small-budgeted – comments some readers posted. Many raised outraged that the cost of the buttons is only 3 cents and that giving these buttons is the least that the Met can do for the $25 suggested admission price. WOW! What people failed to do was a little math. The Met will save about $200,000 a year. I realize this may seem like small potatoes, especially since a quick Guidestar search shows the annual budget is approaching a half-billion dollars. But, what some people don’t realize is that $200K could be two junior hires – salary and benefits. It could be adding more educational programs for the children of NYC whose schools often don’t have fully-staffed art programs. It could mean three more people who work the coat check on Saturday’s and Sundays. When you have to wait 10-15 minutes to check your coat. Trust me – you start asking yourself why there are not more people working.

What the article didn’t mention was what the savings will be used for? Has healthcare reason for one of their unionized groups and this $200K will help offset the increase. Did the City reduce one of its funding streams? It reminds me that we as school leaders and trustees must explain these kinds of decisions with more context? We need to use these moments of cuts to show how some programs and associated costs have increased. Budgets are constructed one dollar at a time and we need to do a better job finding ways to explain this to our constituencies.

I admit I will miss my brightly colored M-buttons. But, I rather the third graders at PS64 get a chance to visit the MET for free instead of me getting a metal pin that I will never wear again. Yet, these kids could remember going to the Met for a lifetime! I’ll take a lifetime impact over a day of “showing-off” any day.

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