It’s about to be Museum Week in Chicago. Every January, while it’s too cold to enjoy the lakefront, rooftop bars and generally being outside for more than five minutes, the greatest cultural institutions in this fair city open their doors even wider than normal with special discounts, free days and exhibits meant to draw residents and tourists alike in to explore. Museum Week 2018 runs from January 18th through the 26th and will include all the “major” museums as well as some you might not have explored yet. This includes MSI Chicago, The Art Institute, The Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium, Notebaert Nature Museum, Chicago History Museum, Dusable Museum of African American History, Lincoln Park Zoo, MCA Chicago, the National Museum of Mexican Art, and the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture. With free or reduced admission offered to all, it’s a great time to check out something new or explore an old favorite. We’ve got a guide prepared to help you get the most out of this museum week. From the best exhibits to go see to the best events happening during Museum Week, we’ve got you covered, so bookmark this page and get the most out of this amazing week of culture in Chicago.
Best Museum For a Quick Stop at an Odd Hour: MCA Chicago – If your schedule is packed so you’re not sure you can take advantage of the vast treasures of the Art Institute, find some time for the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. This museum’s incredibly popular, which is why we suggest odd hour attendance, but you’ll enjoy it any time. It’s packed to the brim with art, constantly hosting great performances, lectures and events, and it’s compact enough for you to get a good glimpse in only a few hours.
What to See: We highly recommend checking out the Michael Rakowitz exhibit, Backstroke of the West. Rakowitz is a Chicago based Iraqi-American artist and represents the beauty and depth of his culture in truly inspired ways, including his ongoing work to recreate at full scale every item that was looted from the Iraqi National Museum.
How Much: For Museum Week, adult admission dips to $12, with everyone 18 & under free all year. Jan 23 is an extra free day for Illinois residents, with Tuesday being free for IL residents throughout the year. If you love shopping the MCA Chicago’s gift shop like we do, also be aware of the 10% discount there during museum week (20% for members)
Best Museum to Take a Day Off For: Art Institute of Chicago – The Art Institute of Chicago is the second largest art museum in the country, and seeing all of the amazing and priceless works takes time. Whether it’s been a while since you’ve walked the halls or it’s just not been somewhere you’ve fully explored, museum week is a great time to get a look. There’s always something going on here, from sketch classes and gallery tours to artist talks, so check out their calendar and see what might be of special interest to you.
What to See: It’s hard not to just say “everything” and recommend letting your heart be your guide here, but there are some special exhibitions you might want to check out. Of special interest is the Rodin exhibit, which runs through March 4 and celebrates one of the world’s most famous artists. You’ll see wonderful drawings, as well as rarely seen sculptures acquired from private collections.
How Much: What’s amazing about Museum Week at the Art Institute is that it’s completely free. For as many pieces of priceless art as you’ll see wandering the halls, that’s more than a good deal. There’s Monet, Manet, Dali, Escher, Da Vinci and an entire modern wing full of contemporary treasures. As we’ve mentioned, you could very easily spend all day here (and now’s the perfect time.)
Best Place to Ponder: Chicago History Museum – The Chicago History Museum is a fun place to stop and see all the things that make Chicago Chicago. There’s antique CTA cars, an impressive array of World’s Fair artifacts and some incredibly immersive recreated scenes from the city. This is the museum that brought us Vivian Maier not so long ago. But there’s more in store this year at the Chicago History Museum.
What to See: Of particular relevance this time of year is the museum’s Remembering Dr. King exhibit, a permanent exhibit featuring a historic photo gallery as well as artifacts from King’s life. This goes hand-in-hand with an important new exhibit at the museum, Race: Are We So Different? This exhibit’s goal is to examine and challenge these perceived differences and hopefully instill new insight and perspective into its viewers.
How Much: The Chicago History Museum’s Museum Week Admission structure is a bit on the unnecessarily complicated side, but we’ll boil it down and provide a link to ensure accuracy. During Museum Week, you’ll find 25% off admission Monday and Wednesday through Friday, with Tuesdays being completely free. Weekends are 10% off admission, and there are group tours and membership discounts should you want to be a more permanent fixture here.
Best Place to Get Some Space: Adler Planetarium – Adler is awe inspiring for location alone, boasting beautiful lakefront views, but exploring the outer reaches of space is where it’s at here.
What to See: We highly recommend Mission: Moon as it’s an intimate look at the moon landing from the perspective of local lunar explorer James A. Lovell. It tells the story of how he was inspired to be an astronaut, what it was like trying to get in at NASA and finally, the triumph and fear experienced by him and his family as he succeeded in the mission to the moon. We also strongly suggest a ticket to see Planet Nine and learn all about the new planetary bodies being discovered.
How Much: It’s 25% off any admission package at Adler during Museum Week and there are a lot of packages to choose from, whether it’s a sky show or one of the great films available to view.
Best Place to Celebrate the Whole City: The DuSable Museum of African American History – The museum scene extends far beyond Museum Campus on Lake Shore Drive, and the city is much more than the Loop and the direct downtown area. The DuSable is a Smithsonian affiliate for good reason. It’s hugely important to understanding the rich history of the city and American history as a whole by looking at the influence and importance of African American history, culture and art, and to not add this one to your list would mean you miss a lot.
What to See: Our most highly recommended exhibit at the DuSable right now has recently been extended through April 2018. Chicago: A Southern Exposure is the work of Lee Bey, a Chicago native who is an architecture photographer, critic and South Side resident. The aim of the exhibit is to get people looking at the wonderful overlooked places on the city’s South Side and expose the racism and classism that prevent people from exploring this treasure trove of art and architecture.
How Much: The Museum Week Discount at the DuSable is 50% off admission, with free Tuesdays all year and children 5 and under always free. There’s also a special half price family membership offer during Museum Week.
Best Place to Wave at Dinosaurs: The Field Museum – SUE the T. Rex is a shining star in Chicago’s museum culture, and her toothy grin is iconic to the museum scene here. That’s why it’s important to get your selfies with SUE now, before she goes off display for a bit (while her private suite is installed, no worries) on February 5th. There’s big changes for the Field upcoming, so getting a glimpse of the before is a great idea.
What to See: There’s lots to take in at the Field every day, but our recommendation this time around would still be Ancient Mediterranean Cultures in Contact, for an eye-opening look at how cultures interact, adopt things from each other and get along.
How Much: During Museum Week, Illinois residents will receive $2 off ticket purchases, and those with EBT or WIC identification will receive $3 admission for up to six people.
Best Place to Be a Kid Again ( And Learn Things!) – Museum of Science and Industry Chicago – MSI Chicago is great. It’s full of nostalgia for so many of us, from the depths of the coal mine exhibit to the great lengths of U-505. There’s never a dull moment there, with giant tornadoes, Tesla coils and tornadoes to explore.
What to See: If you somehow missed the amazing robots of Robot Revolution, fix that during Museum Week. These AI wonders do everything from play cards and emote to sort pills faster than you can blink. There’s drones and dancing robots as well as ones with surgical precision and that can defuse bombs, and you’ll only have until February 4th to see them.
How Much: MSI Chicago is offering 20% off museum entry for the weekdays and 10% off for the weekend of Museum Week.
Best Place for Cultural Immersion: National Museum of Mexican Art – NMMA is a local gem. It’s in the heart of the Pilsen neighborhood and bursting with color for anyone who wants a taste of the beauty and depth of Mexican culture, both here and all over the world.
What to See: Put a plan to explore Pilsen into action along with your visit, and check out Placemaking and Landmarks: The Creation of Mexican Spaces in la Dieciocho (Pilsen). This exhibit looks at the development of Chicago’s Mexican community in Pilsen, and highlights the preservation of Mexican culture within the neighborhood even as so many other groups were compelled to abandon native customs. It’s a great exhibit that really highlights what makes Pilsen unique and vibrant, and by the time you’re done with your visit you’ll want to head out and explore.
How Much: The National Museum of Mexican Art is always free, and open Tuesday through Sunday to explore.
Best Place for Perspective and History: The National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture – Puerto Rico is a place struggling to survive right now, but its people are and have always been strong and proud, and Chicago has been a home away from home for some from this beautiful US territory. If you don’t know much about Puerto Rico, change that this week by visiting this national museum.
What to See: We won’t narrow it down. Learn everything you can about the beauty, history and art of Puerto Rico, and the establishment of the Puerto Rican community in Chicago, as well as the building itself, and think about what we can do as a community to help restore and preserve Puerto Rico after the devastation it saw in 2017.
How Much: FREE – The museum and parking are both free all year round.
Best Place to Beat the Winter Blues: Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum – The Notebaert was already a great place to get into nature when it’s a little on the cruel outside side. There’s plenty to learn about our local landscapes and the world at large here, and all year round you can take a serene stroll through the Judy Istock butterfly haven and feel a little lighter (and warmer), but new and even more exotic things are afoot.
What to See: There’s tons to see at the Notebaert right now, but one of the most exciting is The Bird House. This exhibit opens on Thursday, January 18 and features live birds- from macaws and aracari to native bobwhite quails. Museum Week also falls during their Wild Winter Animal Showcase and I Spy Animals in the Winter, which help you figure out how all our native wildlife survives the snow and cold. Finally, in celebration of the 161st anniversary of the Notebaert, an exhibit called Opening the Vault is landing, featuring some of the museum’s rarely seen specimens.
How Much: Adult Admission for Illinois Residents all through Museum Week is 20% off. Children under 3 are always free, and Thursdays are suggested donation days for Illinois residents. In addition, LINK cardholders can purchase up to six tickets for $1.
Best Place to Talk to the Animals: Shedd Aquarium
What to ‘Sea’: We found Washed Ashore to be an eye opener and a really interesting way to clean up the oceans. You won’t be able to miss the giant pieces of art sculpted from trash pulled out of the ocean as you explore the aquarium. They’re colorful, amazing and serve a great purpose. Also consider taking the admission price savings and putting them towards one of the Shedd Aquarium’s fantastic experiences- whether that’s a shark feeding tour, penguin or beluga encounter or a behind the scenes look.
How Much: Illinois residents get free admission during Museum week except on Saturday and Sunday, January 20-21. LINK and WIC cardholders get free admission through Museums for All.
That’s the rundown. Chicago Museum Week is an extraordinary opportunity, and we hope we’ve given you the tools you need to make the most of it. Take a look, plan a trip and tell us about what you see there when you’re done on our Facebook page or via Twitter. Have a great time exploring the cultural institutions that make Chicago shine.