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Illinois may deny tourists free admission to Chicago museums

May 6, 2011 |  3:45 pm

Chicago, that toddling town, probably won’t be anyone’s idea of a tourist-coddling town if Illinois governor Pat Quinn signs a bill on his desk that would end free admission for out-of-state residents at the city’s signature museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago (whose prized Georges Seurat painting, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of la Grande Jatte," is pictured), the Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium.

Chicago News Cooperative reports that the museums themselves pushed the bill -- which passed unanimously in the state Legislature -- in a bid to get into tourists' pockets rather than afford them the weekly free day that state law now mandates for all comers.

SueFieldMuseumAPKiichiroSato “The revenue to be gained is in the millions of dollars,” said Gary Johnson, president of the Chicago History Museum and head of the 10-institution Museums in the Park consortium whose members are required to provide 52 free days per year.

Southern California museums offer some special locals-only admission perks. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is free weekdays after 5 p.m. for county residents--– which comes to 13 hours a week but carries a limitation that has nothing to do with museum policy –- bucking L.A. rush hour traffic.

L.A. area museums that waive admission charges one day a month (among them the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, the Huntington in San Marino and the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana) or weekly (the Hammer Museum’s free Thursdays) don’t pull back the welcome mat based on a visitor’s place of residence. For Santa Ana residents, the Bowers extends it a second day each month.

Not that the governor of Illinois is listening to Culture Monster, but might a less distasteful way of reaching the same goal be to raise Cook County's 15.4% hotel tax a fraction and dedicate the extra revenue to local cultural institutions?


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Photos: Top, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of la Grande Jatte," a painting by Georges Seurat, at the Art Institute of Chicago; Sue the Tyrannosaurus rex gets a dusting at the Field Museum. Credits: Art Institute of Chicago, Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection (painting); Kiichiro Sato / AP (Sue).

Comments () | Archives (2)

A great big HUH??? Whenever I'm in Chicago (I live on the west coast) I try to visit the Chicago Art Institute. But I've always paid to get in, no one ever pointed out it was free for out of state people. No signage ever indicted this. I mean, I don't mind paying, it's reasonable, and someone has to keep on the lights. I'm just surprised.

This is so ridiculous. I'm from LA and now live in Chicago, and and am amazed at the crazy things the museum here get away with.

I'm also an arts administration masters student (at the School of the Art Institute), so I think I'm pretty much in the know about museum operations.

I know admission is a touchy issue when it comes to earned revenue. For the smaller museums I think this matters more.

But for the big boys like the Field and the Art Institute, I know for a FACT that admissions is not integral to their overall budgets. I just took a finance class and someone did their final paper on the Art institute, they finished their fiscal year with quite a surplus.

The Art Institute is also going to get rid of their free Thursday evenings (part of the 52 sliced days), why?--Because too many people are taking opportunity of them.

So much for non-profits serving the people. This is awful.

The Art Institute probably makes more money from my tuition then they what they loose on one of these free Thursday nights.

And don't even get me started on the Field Museum.


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