Chicago Museums To Charge Out-of-Staters on Free Days

Art Institute Lions with Blackhawks Helmets

Not surprised, really. Tourists are often easy targets for revenue generating ideas (special taxes on hotels, car rentals, etc.). No matter the price, visiting the museums of Chicago is still worth the expense.

The Big Squeeze confronts every facet of the economy and will soon hit culture-craving visitors to Chicago from places like Des Moines, Berlin and Buenos Aires.

A nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization providing local coverage of Chicago and the surrounding area for The New York Times. More From the Chicago News Cooperative » Their free ride on free days is about to end. As it does, we can wonder how else we might monetize the city’s 40 million annual visitors.

Very quietly, a consortium of museums has persuaded the Illinois legislature to allow them to charge entry fees to out-of-staters on the 52 free museum days each year mandated by the General Assembly.

The bill, approved unanimously,  is on the desk of the Hamlet of Springfield, Gov. Pat Quinn, who presumably will need less time to mull whether to sign this one than he took agonizing over abolition of the death penalty.

Gary Johnson, president of the Chicago History Museum, led the charge as head of Museums in the Parks. That group comprises the Adler Planetarium, Art Institute of Chicago, DuSable Museum of African American History, Field Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum of Science and Industry, National Museum of Mexican Art, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, John G. Shedd Aquarium and Johnson’s home base in Lincoln Park.

The legislature’s jurisdiction originally involved museums on public parkland, back in an era in which the state gave them operating money. It no longer does, but some still get local help, like the aid Chicago’s museums get from the Park District.

Currently, Chicago’s museums must have 52 days when admission is free even to out-of-staters. They’ve argued for years that they labor under a de facto unfunded state mandate and, with budgets tight, need help.

(click here to continue reading Chicago Museums To Charge Out-of-Staters on Free Days –

and because of this:

Nationally, Chicago appears to offer more freebies than any big city, with the exception of Washington, where so many museums are subsidized by all of us. “We’re off the charts,” another Chicago museum leader told me.

Ex Parte

On a personal note, I moved to Chicago because the first time I visited here, as a broke-ass college student, with a vanload of friends hepped up on something or other, I went to the Art Institute when admission was whatever you wanted to pay1, and was so impressed that suddenly Chicago jumped to the top of the list of cities I wanted to live in. But I understand that in the 21st Century, art is not a priority, and has to pay its own way.

Queue Up

  1. I paid a dollar []

2 thoughts on “Chicago Museums To Charge Out-of-Staters on Free Days

  1. Cinchi says:

    I understand where you’re coming from in lamenting the nullification of nonresident free museum admission and I know the heads of the museums all have a commitment to public education and would rather it not a necessity (I actually personally know several so I’m speaking first hand). The issue is that museums are losing their government grants, fundraising is tougher than ever, and museum’s are getting hit with “shared sacrifice” law changes such as losing their property tax exemptions (California has been challenging them and Boston just enacted that museums need to pay a discounted property tax).

    Chicago’s Mayor Emanuel has talked about taking away the real estate exemption but hasn’t proposed it, but has proposed charging the museums city water and sewer fees. Museums, as nonprofits, have to operate within IRS constraints as to where their operating revenue can come from and maintain their nonprofit status and one of those revenue streams is admission fees. When government funding is cut and donations are down, admission fees take on greater importance. What’s interesting is that “shared sacrifice” when it comes to museums who can’t threaten to move out of town means not only losing government grants, but also having to pay property taxes and various other fees. Of course for profit businesses are mobile and simply threaten to leave town and they get massive tax break packages “in the name of job creation”. The school system also loses significant revenue from these tax incentive packages offered to businesses and Hollywood movie studio productions.

    “Shared sacrifice” really seems to apply only to middle class individuals, non-mobile businesses and non-profits, schools (i.e. our children), but not large corporations because of the competition established between the states to woo business (started courtesy of our deep south states).

  2. All good points…

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