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The Field Museum, Maximo
Photograph: Lucy Hewett

How to visit some of Chicago’s best museums without leaving your house

The Adler Planetarium, Field Museum and more beloved local institutions have introduced virtual exhibitions.

Emma Krupp
Written by
Emma Krupp

Chicago's top-notch museums and cultural institutions remain closed for the time being, but that doesn't mean you can't get a small dose of cultural enrichment from the comfort of your apartment. With the help of Google Arts and Culture, some of the best museums in Chicago have migrated their exhibitions online, allowing you to view digital versions of wall texts, artworks, artifacts and more in curated collections; a handful also offer enriched materials on their websites, like prerecorded lectures and coloring book pages. Whether you're a history buff, science geek or a dilettante falling somewhere in between, there's a little something for everyone in these digitized archives—go forth and learn!

Adler Planetarium

It's tough to beat the spectacle of an in-person planetarium show, but you can still get a taste of the Adler's space-related content through 10 online exhibits. Highlights include "Voices of Apollo," which tells the stories of those involved in the famous space mission, and "Picturing Women in Astronomy and Space Exploration," an exhibit exploring the changing roles of women in the fields of astronomy and space science. Prefer something a little more hands on? Head to the Adler's website for interactive activities like the YouTube series "Do Science at Home," which teaches you how to conduct easy, at-home experiments.

The Art Institute of Chicago

The exhibition "El Greco: Ambition and Defiance," focusing on the artist's evolution from icon painter to a prominent figure in the Italian Renaissance and beyond, had only been open a few weeks when the Art Institute temporarily closed its doors; luckily, you can experience it online through video tours, blog posts and other interactive features available on the Art Institute's website. Once you've finished poring over El Greco's career, head to the museum's Google Arts and Culture page to view digital editions of more than 500 of its most famous artworks, like Vincent van Gogh's self portrait and Mary Cassatt's "The Child's Bath."

DuSable Museum of African American History

Chicago's museum of African American history touts the online exhibit "Freedom, Resistance and the Journey Toward Equality," which traces the legacy of black history in America through various artifacts and artworks on display within the museum. Ranging from the Atlantic Slave Trade to black Chicago politics in the late 20th century and onward, the exhibition features photographs and accompanying text to help paint a full picture of African American history on a local and national level.

The Field Museum

Known for its impressive natural history collections, the Field Museum houses online photo galleries of its many zoological specimens, including lion taxidermies and colorful bird illustrations. Also online right now is the digital exhibition "Rethinking the Sculptures of Malvina Hoffman," a solemn interrogation of the museum's racist 1933 presentation of the sculptor's bronze works—presenting subjects from the San ethnic group, various Native American tribes, and other non-white communities—as demonstrations of anonymous racial types.

Shedd Aquarium

Chances are you've already seen video footage from the Shedd penguin field trips (if you haven't, check it out immediately: you'll thank us later), but in case you're interested in learning more about how the aquarium operates, the Shedd also offers an online walkthrough of its operations, from rescue and rehabilitation of sea critters to conservation programs for the Great Lakes. You can also scope some extremely cute photos of the aquarium's animals, like sea otters, clownfish and sea stars.

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Learn more nature conservation through the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum's online exhibit "Biodiversity at Risk," which explores human impact on biodiversity via photos of species that are either at risk for extinction or already extinct. While you scroll through the photos, you'll also be able to read about the sixth mass extinction—which we're currently in the midst of—and how scientists are working toward conservation efforts.

Chicago History Museum

Glimpse scenes from the city's past with the help of the Chicago History Museum's 11 online exhibitions; for instance, the exhibit "Ride Around Chicago: A City in Transition" takes the viewer through the history of Chicago's transit system and technological advancements through the diary of a late-19th century streetcar conductor, accompanied by contemporaneous photos, maps and 360-degree videos. Other exhibits include a look at Chicago's culinary history and a study of the haute couture styles of the fashion label Mainbocher.

National Museum of Mexican Art

Check out selections from one of the largest collections of Mexican art in the country via the museum's seven online exhibitions, ranging from the history and art of Mesoamerica to contemporary Mexican paintings and prints, plus Mexican muralism and work from artists like Carmen Lomas Garza, Ester Hernandez and Jean Charlot. Much of the information is available in both English and Spanish, and if you feel like making some art yourself you can visit the museum's website for interactive activities, like printable coloring book sheets featuring piñatas, calaveras and otomi.

Oriental Institute Museum

The University of Chicago's museum of ancient Middle Eastern civilizations features online exhibits on hieroglyphics, Persepolis and conducting business in the ancient world, plus individual galleries with photos of artifacts from ancient Iraqi civilizations, Egyptian tombs and more. Amateur scholars are also free to explore the museum website's free database of digital publications, with articles on topics like Islamic studies and Iranian civilization, or videos of prerecorded lectures from various experts at the Oriental Institute.

IIT Institute of Design

Want to learn more about the history of the Bauhaus movement in Chicago and beyond? The IIT Institute of Design—founded by the Hungarian Bauhaus stalwart László Moholy-Nagy in 1937—hosts two online exhibitions on the German-born art and design movement, which flourished in Chicago under the instruction of designers like Moholy-Nagy and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Scroll through the digital collections to see photos of Bauhaus designs in Chicago and nationwide, plus a comprehensive history of the art movement's development in the United States.

Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center

Listen to Holocaust survivors tell their stories in their own words in a series of videos called "In Our Voices," available on the museum's website. Most of the videos are shot as interviews with the real survivors, but one previews the museum's unique holographic Holocaust survivor experience, showing how museum attendees can ask questions to a realistic holograph—programmed with pre-recorded answers—of a survivor. You can also catch a guided tour of the exhibition "Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg," which was cut short by the Illinois stay-at-home order.

Museum of Science and Industry

Kids will be especially fond of MSI's online roundup of at-home science activities that utilize basic materials (newspaper, eggs, popsicle sticks, etc.) as the basis for engaging experiments, like constructing a paper fort or creating slime. Once activity time is over, watch videos of scientific processes, from the hatching of a baby chick to the engineering challenges of moving the museum's massive U-505 submarine from the outdoors into its current subterranean home.

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