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Thursday, November 11, 2004

An Open Letter to Greg Allen

Dear Greg,

I love it when you get all riled up. It makes for great reading. One of my faves is your post about going off on the Pakistani ambassador to Japan while you were in Hiroshima. That’s fabulous stuff.

I can’t help but think, though, that part of your rant last night was aimed at me. That’s why I’m writing.

Well, that’s half the reason I’m writing. The other half is this: I want all ten of the MoMA passes you’re making available. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

I started grousing about a $20 MoMA admission on From the Floor when it was announced, and I’ve taken more than my share of potshots in the interim. I was also the one who leaked the existence of FrEE MoMA to the blogosphere this week.

I’m not ashamed to admit this: my blog is a self-indulgence. Most of the time it’s all about me in one tangential way or another. That’s what blogs are by nature, right? But this topic is different.

Here’s a secret most people don’t know. Art museums comp other museums’ employees. The pro bono work I do for the Whitney has gotten me an employee ID. That means I don’t have to pay to get into MoMA. I haven’t paid an admission there since 2001, and I won’t have to pay when the museum opens next weekend. Personally, it makes no difference to me if MoMA charges $2 or $20 because it’s always free for me and my guests.

Unlike almost everything else I do on the blog, I’ve continued to kvetch about this issue for reasons other than self-interest.

Although I may look like a self-centered metrosexual if you run into me on the street, underneath that surface I’m actually a bit of an old-fashioned hirsute lefty. I believe that as a society, as a community, we’re all in this together. I believe that those of us who are fortunate enough to have benefited from the system the Founding Fathers established have a duty to help those who haven’t benefited as much.

Because I don’t want to pay this idea lip service, I make a point of putting my money and my time where my mouth is. I take the $10 I don’t spend every day at Starbucks (and the other $10 I don’t spend on cabs because I walk or take the subway) and give it to mission-driven organizations that work in our community and internationally to make the world a better place—organizations like WNYC, the New York Public Library, City Meals on Wheels, City Harvest, Habitat for Humanity, CARE, and Doctors Without Borders. In the last year I’ve also given my academic and professional expertise to the Whitney, the Lucy Moses School, and NYFA on a pro bono basis.

I’ve been pushing the MoMA admission issue because with the blog I have a forum (a limited forum, granted) that I can use to try to make a difference. I haven’t been doing this out of self-interest or “idealism and condescending romanticism towards some amorphous Common Man.” Unlike you (I guess) I know people—real people—who have been priced out of a visit to MoMA. I’ve been doing what I can to open and sustain discussion of this issue on their behalf.

Our city is filled with people who are either struggling to climb into the middle class or are struggling to keep their place there. These are the people hurt most by MoMA’s new fee. Today’s emerging artists are one subset of this group. Ironically, the artists whose work MoMA will collect in the 2010s and 2020s will struggle to visit MoMA today.

Your offer of ten admissions to MoMA is really generous. I hope this doesn’t sound greedy, but I want to step forward to request all ten of the passes you’re making available.

These passes aren’t for me since I don’t need them. They are for ten real New Yorkers I know who probably won’t be able to go to MoMA this year without them. If you give me your ten passes, I will pass them along to the following people.

Two of my wife’s friends: Mrs. FtF got a call a while ago from a recent graduate of her college who had just moved to New York and was looking to establish a local network. This woman and her husband are both waiting tables at a TGI Friday’s while they look for entry-level jobs that will let them start their careers. A day for two at MoMA would cost a good portion of a shift’s tips which they need for rent on their Times Square walkup and to pay back student loans.

Our upstairs neighbor and her three kids: She’s a single mom raising her kids on a New York City cop’s salary. Things are kind of tight for her right now because she recently moved her family out of the one bedroom apartment they were sharing into a two bedroom apartment that opened up in the building. The rent’s a few hundred dollars a month higher now, and a day at MoMA with the family isn’t even close to being a priority when the monthly budget gets made.

Two friends of mine: She’s a sculptor. He’s an architect. They are both a year out of school and are both really talented. She’s doing her own work and is working as a studio assistant to an artist who has work in MoMA’s collection. He’s in his first year with an important firm. They are both going places quickly, but with other financial commitments they have right now, $40 for a day at MoMA is a luxury. Job demands make it difficult to get up to W. 53rd St. during a limited number of hours on Friday afternoons.

Another two friends of my wife: Mrs. FtF knows this recently married couple. He’s a painter. She’s a musician—a singer/song-writer. I make a point of going to her shows when she plays in the Village because she’s really good. In order to have the flexibility they need to continue to develop their craft, they’ve both taken low-paying day jobs. Finances are tight as a result, and she’s had some health problems in recent years. Other things come before a day at MoMA.

Let’s start here. Send me the ten passes you have on offer, and I’ll make sure these people get them. If you’re willing to go back to the well for another ten next week, let me know. I’ve got another group of people I want to tell you about.



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