Guide to the Art Institute of Chicago. As discussed in other posts certain Illinois Museums are required to offer free admission to Illinois residents for 52 days a year.
Admission to the Art Institute of Chicago is free to Illinois residents every Thursday evening from 5-8pm. All children under age 14 are always free. When you go on Thursday evenings always check the AIC Calendar as they usually have lectures open to the general public.
Free Admission for teens ages 14-17
Children ages 14-17, who are residents of the City of Chicago must present a school ID, drivers license, report card or other document indicating that they are a resident of the City of Chicago to get free admission.
Bank of America credit card
Another way to get in for free is if you have a Bank of America credit card. Free days are the first full weekend of every month.
Where: 111 S Michigan Ave, (312) 443-3600
What you get on Free Day
Unlike some other institutions in Chicago when you get into the AIC for free you get access to nearly everything except the Members Lounge and Member exclusive lectures. From time-to-time there are also special ticketed exhibits that you will have to pay an extra fee to gain access.
Fast ticket sales
I generally get through the line on Bank of America Free days in about five minutes.
Update 4/7/19: The AIC has reconfigured the ticket area at the Michigan Ave. entrance combining ticket sales with the coat check. They also reduced the registers from 8 to 7. It’s terrible. The lines were massive and it took almost 13 minutes to get to the register. Employees I spoke with told me it’s a big problem. So consider skipping the Michigan Ave. entrance and using the the Modern Wing entrance around the corner on Monroe.
Free app and $7 audio tours
The AIC has a free App that now includes sound with discussion of select art works. You can click on the art work on the map or you can enter the number of the art work on the wall plaque to get the description. Bring earbuds. If you plan to spend some time in the museum splurge on the $7 audio tour. It’s much more informative and also a much better experience to hear the curator talk about the work while you look at it rather than having to read it on your phone. The new and improved app also has an interactive map. I used the AIC’s free wifi because once you get deep into the museum you may lose your signal. The map worked fairly well and was less cumbersome than carrying the paper map.
Museum Layout: 1 million square feet
The AIC collection is housed in eight buildings comprising nearly one million square feet. Like many old institutions it’s been added onto creating an almost maze like floor plan.
- The Addition, Architect, Year of addition:
- Ryerson & Burnham Libraries, Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, 1901
- McKinlock Court, Coolidge & Hodgdon, 1924
- Goodman Theater, Howard Van Doren Shaw, 1926
- Ferguson Building, Holabird & Root & Burgee, 1958
- Morton Wing, Shaw, Metz, & Assoc., 1962
- Columbus Drive Addition and School of the Art Institute, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, 1977
- Daniel F. & Ada Rice Building, Hammond, Beeby & Babka, 1988
- Fullerton Hall Restoration, Weese Langley Weese: Gilmore, Franzen Architects, 2001
- Modern Wing, Renzo Piano, 2009 (264,000 sq feet)
Pre-plan what you want to see or you may wander aimlessly until exhausted without seeing what you want to see
You can get a map at the Information Desk at the Michigan Avenue or Modern Wing Entrance and circle the galleries containing the works and exhibits you wanted to see. Or you can use the app. I email myself a list of the galleries I want to visit and use the app. Of course you don’t have to do this but you may find yourself wandering aimlessly until you’re exhausted – remember 1 million square feet.
You can figure out what you want to see and where it is located by using the excellent AIC website. Read more here. What to See in an Hour
Elevators and docents
All buildings have two levels and a lower level except the Modern Wing which has three levels and a basement. I find taking elevators quite helpful as short cuts. There are docents everywhere and they are knowledgeable about helping you find your way through the maze as well as to stairs and elevators.
Check the website calendar ahead of time so you can take part in free gallery talks and tours given by highly trained docents.
You cannot bring any food or beverages into the AIC. Just be sure to keep your ticket and you can go in and out. There are many options across the street from inexpensive Shake Shack and Potbelly to more pricey but reasonable Le Pain Quotidian and Acanto.
In the main Museum you can dine at the Museum Cafe in the basement and during the summer outdoors at McKinlok Court. In the Modern Wing is Caffe Moderno and Terzo Piano. Terzo Piano is very pricey. But you should head up there anyway and go out onto the Bluhm Terrace and check out the great view of the Lurie Garden. You are allowed to do this even if you’re not dining there. The Lurie Garden’s topography was designed with view from the Modern Wing in mind, even though the expansion was still in its planning stage at the time of the Lurie Garden installation.
Other ticket options
If you are thinking about visiting more than one attraction the City Pass or Go Chicago Card both offer the best discount you can find. Using these passes takes some planning but you will save a lot of money which you can reallocate to dining or hotel costs or something else.
Other Museum Posts
- Here’s the deal on Free Day at the Adler Planetarium
- Here’s the deal on Free Day at the Field Museum
- Here’s the deal on Free Day at the Museum of Science and Industry
- Here’s the deal on Free Day at the Shedd Aquarium
- Guide to Chicago History Museum