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Will There Be Another Round of Admission Hikes?

The Art Institute of Chicago is digging deeper into our pockets: yesterday the Chicago Park District board of commissioners approved a hike in admissions and a bigger jump for non-Illinois residents. As of Feb. 1, general adult admission for instaters will rise from $16 to $18, and out-of-staters like me will pay $23, up from $18.

The Chicago Tribune quotes AIC director Douglas Druick saying:

If we didn’t have to do it, we wouldn’t do it. It was felt that this was reasonable, not too onerous and signaled our commitment to the city and to the state by putting more of the burden on out-of-state tourist visitors.Druick

It seems like only yesterday that the last increase occurred, but apparently it was 2009.

A later story in the Tribune said that the AIC currently gets 4% of its operating revenues from admissions. Averages for that figure are all squishy, if you ask me — they vary partly because the universe of museums that report each year to the Association of Art Museum Directors is not the same every year, nor are reporting practices of museums universal. But that seems low to me for a museum like the IAC, which should have a decent tourist trade (or should have. Whether they’ll come at $23 is another question.)

To me, this all means that the new modern wing is not living up to its initial promise. I am confident guessing that the 4% figure was higher before the new wing increased expenses. Did that outreach to the park bring more paying customers? Or just people who came the ramp, looked around and descended again?

I’m a realist: museums have to maximize revenues. That doesn’t always mean increasing admissions, and I do hope this doesn’t backfire.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Chicago Tribune


  1. sue keilberg says:

    REALLY smart move…this is SURE to encourage more visitors …(another notch in the belt of Artistic Elitism!)

  2. Cathy Essinger says:

    I’ve always loved the art institute, even sent one of my kids to their MFA program. I have visited every time i was in town, but as an out of state person they have now reduced my visits from 3 a year to 1 if i am lucky. I’m on a Budget too, and they haven’t done enough to warrant the price increase. Toledo is beautiful and FREE.

  3. Anastasia P says:

    The world-class Cleveland Museum of Art is also free. I am a native Chicagoan and I love the Art Institute but a $23 admission tag would have me seriously limiting my visits — if an immediate family member weren’t a life-time member who could take me for free.

  4. When I was a kid growing up in Chicago, all the museums were free — Art Institute, Field Museum of Natural History, and the Museum of Science and Industry. They were crowded with people from all over Chicago. Now, not so. Last time I went to the Museum of S and I it was a costly visit, and the underground parking lot means the place is not really approachable on foot, which used to be another welcoming aspect. My brother and I when I was about 13 took drawing lessons on Sat. morns at the Art Inst. and I don’t think those cost anything, either. A very large theater held, again, kids of all backgrounds; “teaching” was very general, but it was fun and a place to mix with people we would not otherwise run into. So I think this kind of charge is outrageous. A family of 4 spends almost $100 to go to the Art Institute? Please. Another instance of making the benefits of this city available only to the well-off (kids used to be able to afford tickets to Cubs games, too — no longer). Is this more of Rahm Emmanuel’s plan to privatize everything in Chicago? To divide the city into neighborhoods where gun murders are rampant and those where real estate is sky high? Boo on this decision. Bring attendance costs down, make civic gems accessible to EVERYBODY.

  5. Tom Brand says:

    When I was a student of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago on the GI Bill of rights (in the late 40’s), the school was part of the same building as the museum. Not now. I feel I learned more from leaving the classroom and wandering into the galleries to look at the real thing. This is the opposite of elitism.
    The Art Institute is built on public land and I feel that attendence should reflect that. It’s our land as the public and the public should have a say how our land is used. Ask me: should there be attendance fees? I say …no.
    The Art Institute is lazy in raising money from those that have it.
    As an artist, I am distressed that so few people give a hang about anything cultural. I think the figure is about 3%. We should be ashamed, but we aren’t. Maybe making the arts too expensive has something to do with this. Just maybe.
    Tom Brand, artist

    • Agreed that making the arts expensive is NOT promoting those arts. There are some enlightened politicians who realize the arts drive a significant local economic as well as cultural sector — cf, the US Conference of Mayor’s resolution on Jazz Day (April 31) and Jazz Appreciation Month (all of April).

      In fact the arts also provide one of the viable paths of upward mobility for those not born to wealth — or used to, until being priced out of possibility. At least we can expect those who aren’t exposed to the institutionalized art but still have the creative bug will come up with something fresh, of their own.

  6. Billie Marzullo says:

    Have you checked the price of going to a movie lately? Please go to the Art Institute of Chicago website. You will find that for $125 membership a family of four (or four adults) can enjoy the Museum 362 days a year! That is LESS THAN $.35 (thirty five CENTS) per day for the entire family. That membership includes discounts for parking, the restaurant, the gift shop, audio tours and an entire year’s worth of activities. I realize that most people won’t go to the Museum every day of the year, but at $2.42/week the $125 membership is an incredible value. Check other similar museums and you will see comperable prices for a one day visit. We gave our son and his wife a membership as a wedding gift and we renew it every year for their anniversary. I would suggest an AIC membership as a fabulous gift idea. And folks, please stop blaming the Mayor for everything.

    • Biil, breaking the membership price down per day or week isn’t the point. Believe it or not, there are adult Chicagoans who would never think of buying yearly membership to ANY museum, but if their kids have some curiosity and get-up-and-go they might avail THEMSELVES of a trip to the Loop and a look in on the museum if it were free. I recall all the kids hanging out at the cove at the Museum of Science and Industry that held three organs, each in their own glassed-in closet — those little rooms became essentially rehearsal spaces for youngsters who didn’t have keyboards at home. The point of “pay what you can” fees, such as are mandated at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, are so people who can’t pay don’t have to but can get in anyway, and those who are enlightened and financially able can kick in to support the others. AIC membership is a fabulous gift idea — if there’s a way to identify people who really want and need it, as well as for children who were brought up to appreciate what the AIC has to offer.
      And I’ll stop blaming the Mayor when he starts coming up with ideas I like for a city I love.

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