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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).