“When is The Art Institute of Chicago Free for Illinois Residents?”

The Art Institute of Chicago (A.I.C.) is a world-famous institution that combines an art museum and a school of art.  That art museum is free for Illinois residents on Wednesday evenings from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. 


Every day, it also provides free admission to children under fourteen, Chicago teenagers under eighteen (thanks to Glenn and Claire Swogger and the Redbud Foundation), LINK and W.I.C. cardholders, and Illinois educators. City Colleges of Chicago joined the museum’s University Partner program.[1]  These various programs allow 25% of The Art Institute of Chicago’s 1,500,000 annual visitors to be admitted to the museum for free. 

Illinois Educators

The A.I.C. defines Illinois educators as teachers (preschool through 12th Grade), artists who teach in schools, and homeschooling parents.  An educators can register on-line to receive a voucher for a complimentary ticket to the A.I.C.’s museum.  The educator in question then must submit the voucher (as either a printed document or on a smartphone) with valid educator identification at one of the museum admission counters. Click here to apply for an Illinois Educator Admission Request. [2] 

City Colleges of Chicago

On December 12, 2019, the City Colleges of Chicago and The Art Institute of Chicago announced under a new agreement the community college system’s 77,000 students would receive free admission to the museum.  Admission is free for them when they present valid college identification.  The hope is that providing free access to art will enhance studies for students and broaden their perspectives.

“Chicago’s status as a world-class artistic capital is drawn from the richness of our cultural centers and institutions, showcasing the timeless beauty and craftsmanship of ancient and contemporary artists,” stated Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot.  “Thanks to this new partnership, the students of Chicago’s City Colleges now have access to perhaps our greatest cultural treasure of all, the Art Institute of Chicago, enabling them to enjoy, share, and grow from the museum’s boundless wealth or works and resources as they move forward with their education, and take our city to new heights.”

James Rondeau, President and Eloise Martin Director of The Art Institute of Chicago, emphasized the museum’s dedication to ensure broad community accessibility.  He noted “this partnership with City Colleges deepens our connection to Chicago students throughout their educational journey.  We look forward to welcoming City College students as they experience the museum and our collection in important new ways.”

“Partnerships are key to creating relevant opportunities and resources for our students,” stated City Colleges of Chicago Chancellor Juan Salgado.  “We are thrilled that City Colleges students will now have free access to the Art Institute, an internationally-renown cultural institution, allowing them to further their studies and enrich their lives.”

Kids Museum Passport

The Kids Museum Passport is a program sponsored by the fifteen institutions in the Museums Work for Chicago that replaces the Kraft Great Kids Museum Passport Program, which the Chicago Public Library offered since 2003.  It allows individuals with a Chicago Public Library card to check out a pass for free general admission to The Art Institute of Chicago (or certain other museums and other cultural institutions).  Each pass admits a maximum of four people for general admission, including special exhibits.  There is a fee for ticketed special exhibits.  Each group using a pass must be accompanied by at least one child under the age of eighteen.  A maximum of two adults are admitted with one pass.

Reflections Festival

Visitors who are fifty-five-and-over (and their caregivers) receive free general admission for on the date of the annual Reflections festival of lifelong learning.

Blue Star Museum

The A.I.C. is a Blue Star Museum.  Thus, active-duty military personnel and their families receive free admission from Memorial Day through Labor Day. 

Normal Ticket Prices and Chicago CityPASS Tickets

      Normally, General Admission is $25 for adults, $20 for Chicagoans, and $22 for Illinois residents (from outside Chicago).  The Fast Pass is $35 for adults.  General Admission is $19 for senior citizens (ages sixty-five-and-older), $14 for senior citizen Chicagoans, and $16 for senior citizen Illinois residents from outside Chicago.  The Fast Pass is $29 for senior citizens.  General Admission is $19 for students, $14 for students who reside in Chicago, and $16 for students who reside in Illinois outside Chicago.  The Fast Pass is $29 for students.  General Admission is $19 for teenagers (ages fourteen-to-seventeen), free for teenage Chicagoans, and $16 for teenage Illinois residents from outside Chicago. The Fast Pass is $29 for teenagers.  One can save 50% off Fast Pass tickets by purchasing Chicago CityPASS tickets online or at The Art Institute of Chicago. 

      One can save 50% or more on premium admission to five of seven top attractions Chicago has to offer by purchasing a CityPASS ticket: The Field Museum, the John G. Shedd Aquarium, Skydeck Chicago in the Sears Tower, the Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum or The Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Science and Industry or 360 Chicago Observation Deck in the John Hancock Building. 

About The Art Institute of Chicago

In 1879, a group of businessmen founded the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. Banker Charles Lawrence Hutchinson (1854-1924) served as the third President of the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, and held the office for forty-two years from 1882 until his death in 1924. In 1882, the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts changed its name to The Art Institute of Chicago.  That same year, The Art Institute of Chicago moved from rented space at the intersection of State & Monroe to property owned by the Art Institute at the southwest corner of Michigan & Van Buren.  In 1885-86, John W. Root (1850-1891) of Burnham & Root designed a Romanesque building to house the Art Institute, at 404 South Michigan Avenue, which opened on November 19, 1887. The A.I.C. organization soon outgrew the Romanesque building and a new home had to be found.  For Hutchinson, who served a one-year-long term as President of The Commercial Club of Chicago in 1889, promoting the city by bringing the World’s Fair to Chicago and securing a new home for the Art Institute could be combined.  In 1892, the A.I.C. sold Root’s Romanesque building to the Chicago Club. Mail-order retail kingpin Aaron Montgomery Ward (1844-1913), who had won a lawsuit to force the City of Chicago to clean up Lake Park (later re-named Grant Park) did not object to the A.I.C. building being erected in Lake Park.   Charles A. Coolidge (1858-1936) with the Boston architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge designed the Italian Renaissance-style structure at the west end of Lake Park along Michigan Avenue, where Adams Street terminates in a T-intersection at Michigan Avenue. Before the A.I.C. took possession of the building, it was used as a lecture hall during the World’s Columbian Exposition, the World’s Congress Auxiliary.  The “Congresses” (international conferences and symposiums) covered such topics as women, labor, medicine, education, finance, temperance, evolution, religion, philosophy, literature, architecture, and art. The Art Institute opened in its new home on Friday, December 8, 1893.

Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge also designed the first addition of 1901, the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries. The A.I.C. benefitted from multiple bequests of Bertha Honoré Palmer (1849-1918), whose husband merchant-turned real estate developer and hotelier Potter Palmer (1826-1902) had been one of the founders of the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts.   These form the Potter Palmer Collection.  Several privately financed additions were made to The Art Institute of Chicago in the 1920s. 

Under the leadership of James N. Wood (1941-2010), who headed the A.I.C. from 1980 to 2004, the George F. Harding Collection of Arms & Armor was acquired; the Daniel F. & Ada L. Rice Building (1988) and Regenstein Hall were designed and built; galleries for Chinese, Korean, and Japanese art were built; the Ryerson and Burnham libraries, the main entrance, the lobby, and the Department of Prints & Drawings underwent restoration; and the garden was remade.  Two exhibitions during his tenure set global records for attendance: Claude Monet: 1840-1926 (1995) and Van Gough and Gauguin: The Studio of the South (2001). He was instrumental in the later construction of the $198,000,000 Modern Art wing designed by Renzo Piano, which increased the size of the Museum by almost 35% when it opened in 2009.

The Art Institute of Chicago’s museum is open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Tuesdays and from 10:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.  It is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. The Ryerson and Burnham Libraries are open from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and is closed on weekends.  The Ryan Learning Center, which has free admission, is normally open when the Museum is open, but is undergoing renovations from Monday, January 6, A.D. 2020 through Sunday, March 15, A.D. 2020.  Similarly, the Crown Educator Resource Center closed on Tuesday, November 26, A.D. 2019.  Educator Resources are still available online.

The address of the Michigan Avenue Entrance is 111 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60603.  The address of the Modern Wing Entrance is 159 East Monroe Street, Chicago, Illinois 60603. The Website is https://www.artic.edu/.


[1] The seven colleges and five satellite sites in the City Colleges of Chicago system serve students pursuing associate degrees or certificates, earning high school equivalency, learning English, or advance their professional development. The seven colleges are Richard J. Daley College, Kennedy-King College, Malcolm X College, Olive-Harvey College, Harry S. Truman College, Harold Washington College, and Wilbur Wright College.  In addition, the City Colleges of Chicago has the Washburne Culinary Institute, the French Pastry School, the Parrot Cage Restaurant at the South Shore Cultural Center, the Sikia Banquet Facility, five Child Development Centers, the center for Distance Learning, the Workforce Academy, and the radio station W.K.K.C. F.M. 89.3.

[2] Note this voucher must not be used in conjunction with Student Tours or Groups.  Click here to read about visiting with student groups.

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