On Thursday, the Metropolitan Museum of Art released the attendance figures for its 2018 fiscal year—a standard administrative procedure that can’t avoid being interpreted as a pseudo-referendum on its controversial decision to begin charging mandatory admission to a wide swath of non-NYC residents as of March 1. And although the museum was understandably proud of the results, we should be careful when judging how valuable they are in answering the questions that matter most about visitorship.
To recap, the museum reported a grand total of 7.35 million visitors across its three locations (Fifth Avenue, the Met Breuer, and the Cloisters) in the 2018 fiscal year (which, for the Met, runs from July 1 to June 30). This total represents a roughly five percent increase over the seven million total visitors it welcomed in 2017—and more importantly, an all-time record for the museum during a single fiscal year.
Still, before we all transform the Met’s infamous David H. Koch fountainsinto celebratory Gatorade baths, there are a couple of points worth surfacing here.
First, the new admission policy only came into force during the final four months of the Met’s fiscal year. And since the museum strictly released annual attendance figures, not monthly attendance figures, the data are too broad to say much about what effect the new ticketing rules did (or didn’t) actually have on visitorship once they were in place.
In fact, this would be true even if we did have monthly attendance data. Why? Because the admissions policy wasn’t the single, solitary variable separating March 1, 2018 from all that came before. The Met also cycled its exhibitions. Competing institutions elsewhere in the city did, too. Most importantly, the world as a whole turned, creating innumerable differences between the public’s viewing plans during the period in question.