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Art Institute will begin admitting Chicago teens free of charge

Written by
Jonathan Samples

This week, the Art Institute of Chicago announced a new admission policy for Chicago teenagers, adding to its already extensive list of free options and giving art-loving teens a new place to loiter.

Beginning on January 2, the museum will admit 14-to-17-year-old city residents free of charge. The decision to open its doors to every Chicagoan 17 and under (the museum has long offered free admission to guests under 14) was made possibly by a donation from philanthropists Glenn and Claire Swogger through the Redbud Foundation.

Amanda Hicks, executive director of public affairs at the Art Institute, said the foundation worked with museum leadership to assess attendance data and see where teen guests were coming from. Not including school trips, approximately 20,000 ticketed visitors between the ages of 14 and 17 came to the Art Institute last year, of which only 2,000 were from Chicago.

“Working to grow that attendance, the foundation and the museum were able to scale the philanthropy so that it will cover teen admission for at least 25 years,” Hicks said. “The goal of the gift isn’t about a single moment or day or year. This is about establishing an incredible benefit of access for an entire generation of young people in the city.”

Those benefits don’t end with free admission. The Art Institute also offers a robust selection of teen-focused activities, including its Teen Lab program, year-round Saturday workshops, museum internships and the Art Institute Teen Council. “It isn’t so much about just offering free admission, but about having value and experience,” Hicks added.

Still, visitors from Chicago and throughout the state have plenty of chances to browse the museum’s works without opening up their wallets. Currently, 25 percent of people who visit the Art Institute of Chicago are admitted free of charge. That’s because the museum offers a wide-range opportunities for people to explore its collection of more than 300,000 artworks and artifacts at no cost. They include free entry for Chicago police and fire personnel, active duty military and veterans, as well as no-cost admission for any Illinois resident on Thursday evenings and other assorted free museum days.

“The accessibility piece is an important mission and important anchor for how the museum fits into city,” Hicks said. “What we’re able to do through the generosity of our donors is pretty remarkable.”

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