Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Dispatches from the Mid-Atlantic: Loosen Up My Buttons, Babe

by columnist Madeline Karp


I like to think I came of age in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. During my sophomore and junior years of high school, I spent countless hours wandering the halls of the Met on school field trips. I was typically the first off the bus, sprinting into the museum at full speed, and always the last one back, moseying to the bus slowly, wishing I could spend just five minutes more. Consequently, I have many fond memories of the Met.

I remember getting kicked out of the Early American wing, because – as my history teacher stood lecturing his class about the Hudson River School in front of a work by Thomas Cole – my class was deemed to be on an “unauthorized” tour and was escorted out of the gallery. We snuck back in through Arms and Armor and finished our lecture in 3-minute spurts – ducking the guards and coming back, ducking and coming back.

I remember discovering that I love (*love*) mobiles by Alexander Calder, and I remember scampering wildly through the halls of the European decorative arts wing with my high school friends (even after the guards told us not to) pretending we were in that silly running scene from the movie Clue.

But my most important memory? The time I told my high school history teacher that I did not have the $5 suggested donation fee to get in to the museum. My teacher graciously paid it for me and gave me what I most remember about the Met – the little colored button. You know the one. Metal, brightly colored, pinned to your shirt to show you paid that day.

I’ll admit, after that, I treasured that button, and saved all of the ones I got ever after, with the hope that the next time I came back, the color would be the same as before and I would not have to pay. It never worked. The colors always changed and I always had to pay. (I later came to find out that there are no less than 16 colors of button, changed daily and at random. I had a snowball’s chance of getting it right.)


My friends, my teenage, button-treasuring self wept a little this weekend. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is doing away with the buttons.

According to Harold Holzer, the Met’s senior vice president for public affairs, the price of metal has risen in the past few years, and manufacturing the buttons has become too expensive. “We realize,” he said, “without sounding crass, that it’s a beloved brand and a beloved symbol. It just became too expensive. We saw that [ceasing the buttons’ production] was inevitable.

As a museum professional, I get it. When there isn’t a lot of money to go around something needs to go. Art conservation takes precedence over admission buttons.  Stickers and paper tickets are more practical than metal. Even raising the cost 1-cent per button exponentially increases production over time – especially when you go through an average of 6.4 million buttons a year as the Met does.

But as a visitor with a long-standing love affair with the Met, I’m heartbroken. The increase in price is one measly cent. One cent! The button was a concrete piece of the Met I always got to take home. It proved I was there – no small thing to an angst-ridden teenager in the midst of an existential crisis. Surely the Met can find a way to raise enough money to cover a 1-cent increase!

Teenage Madeline wants a Kickstarter campaign to save the buttons. Save the buttons! Save them! Don’t let the Met switch to paper tickets featuring advertising!

Museum Professional Madeline is kind of okay with a paper ticket with advertising. Advertising brings in money and money is good, right? But she wonders if maybe instead they could do a sticker that looks like the buttons. It’s less likely to cause a pull in your shirt or get lost, and maybe someone could sponsor the stickers to raise the same money.

What do you think of the Met’s decision to do away with the buttons? What do you think about their decision to switch to paper tickets that could feature advertising?Do you have a museum admission sticker or button that you treasure? Tell me about it in the comments!


To read more about the Met’s decision to ditch the buttons, check out these articles:

Time Out New York: “Bummer, The Met is Getting Rid of Its Metal Admission Tabs”

The Huffington Post: “Met Buttons No More”


1 Comment

  1. Cynthia Robinson

    July 3, 2013 at 10:00 am

    Look at how much publicity the Met garnered by the announcement of the change!

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