The 12 best free art museums and galleries

Check out contemporary art and classic pieces without spending a dime at Chicago's finest free art museums and galleries

Museum of Contemporary Photography

Take it from us, you don't have to spend a fortune on tickets to see amazing art in Chicago. Some of city's most progressive art museums and galleries don't charge admission, giving visitors access to enough paintings, sculptures and installations to fill an entire day. Whether you're a fan of contemporary art or want to see some classic pieces while you're spending an afternoon in the Loop, you'll find exciting works at these free art museums and galleries.

Chicago Cultural Center

Since being converted to the Cultural Center in 1991 (it used to be the Chicago Public Library), this city-block-wide institution now offers free classical concerts Mondays, Wednesdays and Sundays. Most of the center’s classical offerings take place in Preston Bradley Hall on the second floor near the Washington Street entrance. Galleries on the third floor often host free art exhibits, featuring works by local creators.

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DePaul Art Museum

Hop off the train at the Fullerton Red and Brown line station and you'll find yourself at the front door of this underrated art museum on the DePaul University campus in Lincoln Park. The currators of the DePaul Art Museum have made a habit of hosting exciting exhibitions culled from the school's personal collection, including photographs taken by Andy Warhol and Jeff Carter's sculptures made from IKEA furniture.

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Galerie F

Situated on the most rapidly changing block in Logan Square, Galerie F hosts regular art shows displaying gig posters, fine art prints and street art. The gallery also stocks a selection of prints by local and national artists which are available for purchase. If you need something flashy to fill the walls of your new apartment, this is a great spot to start looking.

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Logan Square

Glass Curtain Gallery

Located in the Ludington building on Columbia College's South Loop campus, the Glass Curtain Gallery exhibits emerging and mid-career artists in all media. Showcasing a mixture of national and international artists, this free museum also offers workshops and lectures that allow anyone to learn more about art.

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South Loop Free

Graham Foundation

Operating out of the historic Madlener House in the Gold Coast, the Graham Foundation makes project-based grants to individuals and organizations and produces public art programs. The house also hosts free exhibitions that center around architecture and design as well as a bookstore that sells everything from publications written by grantees to obscure design magazines. 

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Gold Coast

Hyde Park Art Center

With a mission of making contemporary art more approachable, the Hyde Park Art Center offers engaging exhibitions, as well as community programming of all varieties, including artist talks, a residency program, studio classes and more. Established in 1939, it's the oldest alternative visual arts center of its kind in Chicago, a place where visitors can experience art free of charge.

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Hyde Park

Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art

If you're looking for a little bit on cultural enrichment in Evanston, there's no better place to start than at the fine arts museum of Northwestern University. The museum's permanent collection boasts 4,000-plus works by artists such as Shirin Neshat and Jasper Johns, and its Pick-Laudati Auditorium hosts the artsy Block Cinema.

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Evanston

Museum of Contemporary Photography

Founded in 1976, the Museum of Contemporary Photography collaborates with artists and photographers to present exhibitions of analog and digital images. Columbia College frequently presents works from its collection or commissions photographers to develop exhibits that display the capabilities of visual art.

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South Loop

National Museum of Mexican Art

You don't have to look any further than Pilsen to find one of the largest Latino cultural organizations in the U.S. Visit the National Museum of Meixcan Art and explore a 6,000-piece permanent collection, rotating exhibits, performing-arts showcases and educational programming that represents an illustrious Mexican culture.

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Pilsen Free

Renaissance Society

As far as this gallery of the University of Chicago’s campus is concerned, the avantest of the avant-garde is the only one that matters. As for the name, well, the university wants to broaden the definition of renaissance. (Think less Michelangelo, more the Next Michelangelo, in other words.) The white walls and high ceiling create a hyper-resonant environment. Many European avant-garde stars get their only Chicago exposure here, and the shows are free.

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Hyde Park

Smart Museum of Art

Not into the cutting edge installations at the Renaissance Society? Art-lovers visiting the University of Chicago have more than one option for see art on campus, including the Smart Museum of Art which houses the college's collection of fine art and antiquities. The institution works with art scholars to develop exhibits and public programs that help spread the appreciation of art in all its forms.

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Hyde Park

Sullivan Galleries

The Art Institute of Chicago contains masterpieces from throughout history, but you might a get glimpse of work by the next Da Vinci or Rembrandt in the School of the Art Institute's Sullivan Galleries. Shows at the galleries are organized by faculty of student curators and predominantly display work by emerging artists in a variety of media. The exhibitions are open to the public, free of charge.

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Loop

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