Which cultural institutions welcome little aficionados?
By Lauren Weinberg|
The unbeatable combination of culture and clean bathrooms makes Chicago’s art museums surprisingly baby-friendly. Accompanied by a five-month-old, we tested the hospitality of four of our favorite institutions:
Art Institute of Chicago111 S Michigan Ave (312-443-3600). Mon–Wed 10:30am–5pm, Thu 10:30am–8pm, Fri–Sun 10:30am–5pm. $23, seniors and students $17, kids 13 and under free. $2 discount for Illinois residents, $5 discount for Chicago residents. Baby-friendliness factor [fivestar:4] Stroller tours The second Monday of every month, 11:30am–12:15pm. $25, AIC members $10. Reservations required. Changing tables Yes, in both the men’s and women’s bathrooms. Navigability Moderate. Numerous ramps and elevators make it easy to get around with a stroller, but it could take several minutes to walk to your destination. Risk of stinkeye Low, because you’re surrounded by other families—though a guard asked us not to bottle-feed in the galleries, which the museum actually permits. The verdict Baby slept through most of our visit, allowing her parents to enjoy “Of Gods and Glamour.” On the few occasions she grew fussy, it was easy to escape to the cafeteria, lobby and other busy spaces where her crying went unnoticed amid the general hubbub. The Art Institute’s free Ryan Education Center on the first floor of the Modern Wing caters to kids with myriad art workshops, more than 1,300 picture books, games and other hands-on activities related to the museum.
FREEDePaul Art Museum935 W Fullerton Ave (773-325-7506). Mon–Thu 11am–5pm; Fri 11am–7pm; Sat, Sun noon–5pm. Baby-friendliness factor [fivestar:3] Stroller tours None. Changing tables Yes, in one of the single-use bathrooms. Navigability Easy, thanks to the museum’s elevator and compact size. Risk of stinkeye Moderate. While DPAM event coordinator Alison Kleiman tells us the museum has many young visitors, it doesn’t yet have programs for families, and the vibe is decidedly grown-up. Still, you can step outside quickly if baby freaks out. The verdict Because admission is free, we wouldn’t have been devastated to cut our visit short if baby became too restless. Fortunately, she turned out to be a fan of video art.
Museum of Contemporary Art220 E Chicago Ave (312-280-2660). Tue 10am–8pm; Wed–Sun 10am–5pm. $12 suggested admission, seniors and students $7, kids under 12 free. Tuesdays free for Illinois residents. Baby-friendliness factor [fivestar:5] Stroller tours The first Wednesday of the month, 11:30am–12:30pm. Free with museum admission. Changing tables Yes, in both the men’s and women’s bathrooms. Navigability Easy, thanks to the museum’s elevator and simple layout. Risk of stinkeye Very low, because so many families visit, but could be higher if you hit a not-so-fam-friendly show. The verdict We attended a stroller tour, which we loved thanks to our informative (and patient) guide. Baby caused fewer headaches than the toddlers trying to touch the art. The MCA hosts free Family Days the second Saturday of each month, 11am–3pm, featuring exhibition-related activities appropriate for all ages. Puck’s, the museum café, offers a 50 percent discount on its kids’ menu on Family Days.
FREESmart Museum of ArtUniversity of Chicago, 5550 S Greenwood Ave (773-702-0200). Tue, Wed 10am–5pm; Thu 10am–8pm; Fri–Sun 10am–5pm. Baby-friendliness factor [fivestar:3] Stroller tours None. Changing tables Yes, in one of the single-user bathrooms. Navigability Moderate. Visitors with strollers should use the museum’s west entrance to avoid the stairs. When we entered the galleries via the lobby’s ADA-compliant ramp, we found a folding screen blocking our path, but two guards hastened to remove it. Risk of stinkeye Low. Though the Smart has the formal atmosphere one expects from a U. of C. institution, everyone had a smile for baby, from patrons to guards to the café’s barista. The verdict We expected to enjoy the museum’s scholarly shows more than baby, but she was mesmerized by the brightly colored tassels of Claire Zeisler’s sculpture Triptych (1967). The Smart hosts free Family Days on the first Saturday of each month, which include tours and hands-on activities intended for kids ages 4–12.