After 42 Years, Say Goodbye to the Iconic Met Buttons

Museum-goers might be struck with a wave of nostalgia due to the Metropolitan Museum of Art's newest change: the museum, one of New York's finest, will no longer present its colorful metal tags as admissions tokens, according to the New York Times.


1971 was the year that President Nixon was attempting to curb inflation through wage and price freezing policies, when Walt Disney World Resort and Theme Park opened in Orlando, Fla., and the U.S. voting age was lowered to 18-years-old. It was the year that the MET began distributing their colorful metal buttons inscribed with an "M" emblem to admit visitors to its exhibitions. The colors were rotated on a random daily basis, and the policy attracted museum-goers to return to the Met; those who collected all 16 available colored buttons would gain a free visit to the museum, overstepping the $25 cost of admission. 

The Met in its prominence served as an example for museums around the world who "followed suit, with metal (or, increasingly, plastic) badges." The colorful badges have been more than a mere admission tactic; they formed a sense of identity for one of the leading museums in the world. 

After 42 years, however, the Museum can no longer sustain the cost of the buttons. They attributed the necessary change to the inhibiting costs of the tin-plate buttons, opting instead for a standard new paper ticketing system. Along with the cost-cutting measure, the museum will also introduce a new seven-day-week schedule (remaining open on Mondays) in order to optimize visitation and raise its budget. 

Although nostalgic, the change is a necessary product of our times. According to the New York Timesthe museum's director, Thomas P. Campbell, said "I regret it slightly myself." But living is becoming more expensive, and businesses have to alter their policies in order to remain competitive. In 1971, the cost of living in the United States was exponentially lower. A gallon of gas cost just 40 cents, compared to an average of $3.50 per gallon in New York City today. A movie ticket cost just $1.50, a price that has quadrupled over the past four decades. The average American income was determined to be $10,600.000 per year. The times have certainly changed.

The Met's new policy coincides with many businesses who have been forced to switch from their classic practices in order to remain competitive in the market. Take the printing industry, for example. Due to the emergence of electronic readers such as the Kindle and iPad, the demand for hardcover and paperback books is steadily declining, and the price of printing these books cannot be sustained by publishing companies. We have witnessed the closing of major book stores such as Borders because the bookstores simply cannot keep up with technology that is driving prices down.

The music industry, too, has witnessed profound changes within the past decades. Members of older generations look back with nostalgia about the end of vinyl records, and even the millennial generation looks back to an era when CDs dominated the music industry. Today, however, iTunes and iPods more or less dominate the market. The majority of Americans no longer buy records. While this change certainly does not indicate the decline of the music industry, it does signal the drastic ways that the industry must adapt. 

Even the photo industry's giants like Kodak and Polaroid have had to drastically adapt their businesses in order to keep up with the times. Due to Facebook and digital photography, most Americans have decided that from an economic standpoint, printing out photos is no longer feasible. 

The Met's revocation of their button admission policy signals the end of an era. However, the change is not necessarily something to morn. It is an example of the ways that the museum industry, like all industries, must adapt to the changing times in order to remain competitive.

The Met is not going anywhere — it will remain, as it has served for the past century as one of the premiere museums and a home to some of the most coveted artwork and first-class exhibitions. It is, however, being forced to become a bit more mainstream. So goodbye to metal buttons and hello ordinary paper tickets. We will miss you!

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Hannah Loewentheil

I am a Senior at Brown University where I am studying international relations and non-fiction writing. Follow me on twitter @hrl792.

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