The law is clear: New Yorkers have the right to free access and instruction, to at least seventeen  of our City’s most prominent museums, zoos, botanical gardens, performance arts and science centers and aquarium [see LAWS.] These institutions formed a Park Education Campus [PEC] – the core undertaking of an inventive, uniquely American, mid-1800’s public-private partnership [PPP] [see PEC INSTITUTIONS and PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP]
The PEC institutions are situated across New York City’s five boroughs and tenant City-owned buildings on public parkland free of rent. City leaders also annually budget tax dollars to pay their operating and capital costs. These economic concessions are “consideration’ for New Yorkers’ “free” rights. Consideration is the agreed-to payment or benefit one party provides another as an integral component of a “contract. ”Without “consideration,” no contract exists. In 2018, City leaders funneled more than $1 BILLION in direct and indirect subsidies to the PEC institutions. In addition, these institutions amassed nearly $10 BILLION in investments and endowments as they avoided $701.2 MILLION in annual rental payments, yet none of the PPP/PEC institutions delivered on New Yorkers’ “free” rights “consideration”.
The PPP/PEC venture is not only a noble purpose. It also is a legal and monetary contract. [see PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP] Many of the 17 institutions are founded in New York State law [see LAWS.] These laws authorized a New York City agency to enter an Agreement with a PEC institution to codify the controlling state law. Through FA’s use of the Freedom of Information Law [FOIL], FA curates a central repository with copies of Agreements and laws establishing evidence that City leaders in effect whittled away both the “noble” purpose and “legal” contract of the PPP/PEC and in so doing, City leaders may have cancelled their oaths of office by entering Agreements which should be voided. Left to the status quo, New Yorkers – and especially our schools – will continue to be fleeced of a contractual cultural legacy New Yorkers subsidize with more than $1 BILLION annually.
The PPP warrants inalienable fiduciary oversight. Unfortunately, FA’s archive in effect evidences the failure of an exceptionally long roster of New York City Mayoral administrations and PPP/PEC custodians to appropriately codify New Yorkers’ “free” rights to PPP/PEC institutions at one or both of two essential junctures – 1892 and/or 1971. Regarding the former, New York State legislation required The Metropolitan Museum of Art [MMA] and The American Museum of Natural History [AMNH] to open free of charge on Sundays [an 1878 Lease Agreement excepted Sunday openings] and to expand free access times in exchange for additional City funding. Concerning the latter, The MMA initiated its pay-what-you-wish but you-must-pay-something policy, and through today, this policy has been operationalized by the MMA as well as being adopted by other PPP/PEC institutions in effect requiring New Yorkers to pay a “mandatory” fee since a visitor “must pay something.’ [see Admissions and Direct and Indirect Subsidies sections in AMNH and MMA PEC INSTITUTIONS pages]
Currently, ownership and/or oversight [with budgeting authority] of the PPP/PEC institutions is with New York City’s Departments of Parks and Department or Cultural Affairs who report to New York City’s Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development. Using FA’s research and archive, the Adams’ Administration, and the members of the New York City Council, in collaboration with the New York State Legislature, could codify and correct a seemingly failed PPP venture or dismantle it and start anew. In either case, the process should be transparent and result in policies and procedures which require additional oversight by New York City’s Office of Corporation Counsel, Office of Management and Budget and Independent Budget Office with annual reporting on each Agency’s and each PPP/PEC institution’s website.