Pat Nicholson is the founder of Free Admission, a campaign to compel New York City leaders to enforce existing laws and contracts providing New Yorkers the right of free access to a boroughs-wide Park Education Campus consisting of 17 parkland museums, zoos, botanical gardens, performing arts and science centers and aquarium. A born-and-bred New Yorker, Pat currently is the only person who has amassed the facts about, and an archive documenting, New Yorkers’ free access and popular instruction rights to these institutions – a cause she has worked on for more than two decades.
Pat’s passion began in the early 2000s when The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s expansion posed evident safety risks to her historic neighborhood. A natural analyst, Pat then began investigating the Met’s plan and discovered the Met and the American Museum of Natural History were the two launching projects of a nascent public-private partnership inaugurated with the city in the 1800s which provided The Met and Natural History with financial support from the city in exchange for free access and popular instruction for New Yorkers. To this day, these institutions continue to receive public support, in the form of rent-free use of publicly-owned buildings on public park land as well as annual operating subsidies, yet, according to Pat’s research, City leaders and custodians of the park education campus institutions, entered Agreements whose terms contravene New York State law and deny New Yorkers free access and popular instruction.
During the course of her research, Pat has been a plaintiff in lawsuits, developed a plan to engage journalists to be vigorous reporters of the facts about New Yorkers’ rights and in 2012, won a victory in her work to challenge The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s pay-what-you-wish policy when a New York Supreme Court Judge required The Met to change its willfully misleading admissions signage. Wanting New Yorkers to benefit from her knowledge and archive, Pat personally funded her popular Free Admission campaign.
Pat has wide-reaching knowledge of real estate, civil service, and academia. Prior to founding Free Admission, Pat began her career after high school using her secretarial skills at a major textbook publishing house, state and federal governmental agencies and Columbia’s Graduate School of Business. Attaining her business degree from Marymount Manhattan College in her early 30s, Pat was hired by Chemical Bank’s real estate division – Pat’s next career step following working for her future husband, a real estate developer who also raced and bred thoroughbreds. After their marriage and the birth of their son, her family located to the Upper East Side for the independent schools. Later, Pat registered at Columbia University’s Teachers College and, during her study, joined the Institute for Learning Technologies, researching how wide-area network technology could bring university curricular and scholarship to K-12 schools while providing parents and guardians a way to be proactive in their student[s] learning, even if unable to be physically present when schools required.
One of five children raised in an Irish-Catholic home in New York City’s public housing, Pat grew up in a civil service household, which gave her the keen sense of justice that has informed her life’s work.