Suit claims museum gouging customers

Posted: March 27, 2013

PROBABLY 90 percent of the time, Tattle brings you stories about popular-culture celebrities - or no-culture wannabes - but every once in a while, we delve into the fine arts - orchestras, operas, ballet and art.

Piquing our curiosity today is a class-action suit against New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art that accuses the Met of scheming to defraud the public into believing that admission fees are required.

See, what the Met does at the front of its ticket line is say that adult admission is $25. But, underneath the $25, in smaller type, is the word "recommended."

You don't have to pay $25 to get in. You can pay 25 cents.

But, reports the Associated Press, many art fans, especially foreign tourists, don't see the smaller word, don't understand it or don't question it. If they ask, they are told the truth: The fee is merely a suggested donation. You can pay what you wish, but you must pay something.

Since 6 million people visit the Met each year, the difference between "something" and $25 is a lot of money.

The suit seeks compensation for museum members and visitors who paid by credit card over the past few years.

Met spokesman Harold Holzer denied any deception, and said that a policy of requiring visitors to pay something has been in place for more than four decades. "We are confident that the courts will see through this insupportable nuisance lawsuit," he said.

Attorney Arnold Weiss disagrees, saying, "The museum was designed to be open to everyone, without regard to their financial circumstances.

"But instead," Weiss added, "the museum has been converted into an elite tourist attraction."

Weiss is one of two attorneys who filed the lawsuit on behalf of three museum-goers, a New Yorker and two Czech tourists.

Among the allegations are that third-party websites do not mention the recommended fee, and that the museum sells memberships that carry the benefit of free admission, even though the public is already entitled to virtually free admission.

Prepping to testify for the plaintiffs is a former museum supervisor who is expected to say that the term on the sign was changed in recent years from "suggested" to "recommended" because administrators believed it was a stronger word that would encourage people to pay more, said attorney Michael Hiller.

Holzer denied the former employee's allegations. He also said that the basis for the suit - that admission is intended to be free - is wrong because the state law that the plaintiffs cited has been superseded many times, and that the city approved pay-what-you-wish admissions in 1970.

The Met is one of the world's richest cultural institutions, with a $2.58 billion investment portfolio;only 16 percent of its $239 million budget in fiscal year 2012 came from admissions. That same year, New York City paid 11 percent of its operating budget. As a nonprofit organization, the museum pays no income taxes.

TATTBITS

The Hollywood Reporter says that the upcoming season of the French version of "Survivor" has been canceled after a contestant died on the first day of filming in Cambodia.

Gerald Babin, 25, suffered a fatal heart attack Friday after a tug-of-war challenge. Babin complained of cramping during the challenge and was treated by a staff doctor on set. He was later choppered to a nearby hospital and suffered "a series of cardiac arrests" en route, THR reports.

Show producers stressed that all contestants cleared a medical exam prior to filming.

* Recipients of this year's Diane von Furstenberg Awards, announced Monday, include Robin Roberts, who gets the lifetime leadership award for the "extraordinary grace and courage" she has shown in her fight against breast cancer and a blood disorder, according to a statement from von Furstenberg's Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation.

Model Natalia Vodianova is being recognized for her charity work to help children in her native Russia.

Each DVF award winner receives $50,000 for her cause.

* Just to make sure you cancel any other plans, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Monday that next year's Oscar ceremony will be held March 2. The 2015 trophies will be handed out Feb. 22.

Rumored front-runner to host: Justin Timberlake.

Networks are juggling their calendars to avoid overlap with another tape-delayed, micromanaged NBC Winter Olympics, to be held Feb. 7-23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia.

* The MTV Video Music Awards are heading back to NYC this August, but they're bypassing Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall.

This year, the show will be held Aug. 25 at the new Barclays Center, in Brooklyn, home of the NBA's Brooklyn Nets and the recent Rolling Stones and Jay-Z multinight concerts.

* Five people were jailed Monday in Britain for pretending to make a Hollywood movie, in a scam to defraud tax authorities of millions of dollars.

The fraudsters were convicted earlier this month of attempting to bilk the government of $4.2 million in goods and services and tax relief in a plot reminiscent of:

"Argo" - but without a heroic hostage rescue;

"The Producers" - but without "Springtime for Hitler."

- Daily News wire services

contributed to this report.

Molly Eichel has the day off.


Email: gensleh@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5678

On Twitter: @DNTattle

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