Fall Museum Guide: What’s Open, How to Stay Safe, and How to Enjoy Chicago’s Museums From Home

City view from Museum Campus. Photo: Marielle Bokor

UPDATE: Due to the sharply rising number of COVID-19 cases in Cook County, the city of Chicago is returning to Tier 3 mitigation beginning Friday, November 20th. Details of what Tier 3 Mitigation looks like are posted in the below graphic. As a result of this shift, museums will not be allowed to remain open. We will update these two articles with any statements from the museums themselves and if there are any changes to openings/closings. As always, we encourage you to enjoy Chicago’s museums virtually as detailed below. Stay safe, and stay home.

I love Chicago’s museums. It’s a passion and one of the things about what I do that I love the most, and over the last 6 months, it’s been strange not to darken the door of MCA or step into Stanley Hall. The last story I covered in person for Art & Museums was just a day before everything shut down. I was at the Field Museum for a press event ahead of the next day’s opening of the unique, inspiring and empowering Apsaalooke women exhibit. I remember seeing a myriad of precautions already being taken as we grabbed a squirt or two of sanitizer and kept our distance even then, though no one knew that that exhibit would suddenly be put on hold (as everything else was) as we came to grips with the reality of the pandemic and were facing our initial stay at home order. 

Suddenly, everything changed, and for the most part, up until a month or two ago, we’ve seen these great institutions shuttered and throwing their efforts into making a virtual presence that supports Chicago and one that allows for Chicago to in turn support them as they struggle with losses due to lack of ticket sales. And though the pandemic is still active, as Chicago’s and the surrounding area has reached appropriate milestones, we’ve seen a few more things opening their doors, albeit with a slew of changes to account for safety and sanitation’s sake.  “Nature is returning” and with it comes a chance to see Monet at the Art Institute or the Apsaalooke exhibit everyone almost missed.

We recommend that people assess their own risk levels and comfort levels and consider staying in as much as possible to help continue to combat COVID-19 in Chicago, but wanted to give updates on the institutions opening, what precautions they’re taking, and how you can enjoy and explore exhibits, events and programming with all our favorite museums if you’re not yet comfortable with or able to darken the doors.

Follow along for each museum’s opening info, safety procedures and interesting things to see on site or from home in our brand new Fall Guide to Chicago’s Museums.



The Field Museum. Photo: Marielle Bokor

Field Museum

Open: NO

In a statement on the Field Museum’s website, they announced “The museum will be closed from November 20 through at least December 4, due to the increase in COVID-19 cases in Illinois and to comply with city and state advisories.

In the meantime, stay in touch with us online for updates and a peek behind the scenes at all the ways the Field is working to build a brighter future rich in nature and culture.

For information about existing ticket reservations and refunds, email us at guestrelations@fieldmuseum.org or call 312.922.9410. (Or, save yourself a call and donate the amount of your ticket to the museum!) Thanks for supporting the Field, and we look forward to welcoming you back when it’s safe to do so. ”

Safety precautions:

At an institution all about science, we’d expect nothing less than respect for the science of sanitation to keep guests safe as they peruse the many wonders of the Field Museum and luckily, the Field easily meets or exceeds those expectations–and they do it with a ridiculous but informative video from SUE to boot.

What’s this mean? The Field Museum is adhering to all CDC and Chicago guidelines for COVID-19 safety.  

  • All visitors enter via East Entrance, socially distanced, but can leave through East, North or South exits.
  • Masks required for Ages 2+
  • 144 sanitizer stations will be set up throughout the museum
  • Markers and paths that help enforce social distancing. 
  • The Field Museum recommends purchasing contactless tickets online
  • In addition, some small galleries are closed, and the Field Museum suggests the use of their digital map to keep track 
  • The Museum is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays
  • Limiting capacity to 25%
  • Frequent, rigorous cleaning procedures following CDC Guidelines.

On Site Exhibits of Note: 

As mentioned above, the Apsaalooke Women and Warriors exhibit was mindblowing. It was one of the sadder things I’ve had to do as an editor and writer to shelve my review of it–and perhaps that too will be undone.

Online Programming and Activities:

Lucky for us, there is a bunch of online programming for members and nonmembers alike. Come for things like conversations about land acknowledgements, Meet a Scientist Online, or SUE Science Saturday. If you’re a member, experience special online events up to and including this year’s first ever Virtual Gala.  Or, stop by the Science Storytelling Workshop online Oct 24 for Tiny Worlds, the Virosphere.

And of course, you shouldn’t miss the Brain Scoop for a regular dose of awesome science or, in this case, amazing and interesting content about the Museu Nacional fire and how it has affected those in Brazil and all over the world, as the incalculable loss begins to be calculated as best as it can be.



Bit Bash @ MSI 2019. Photo: Marielle Bokor

MSI Chicago

MSI is one of our favorite places to go to get into some hands on science, and really appreciate the wonder of the world all around us. So, how do we navigate that safely? MSI has given a lot of thought to this question and come up with a solid safety policy and managed to continue to maintain an online presence robust enough to make those who need to keep doing the science off site feel included and like they’re a part of the fun and science learning the museum offers.

Open: NO

UPDATE: In a statement on Facebook, the Museum of Science and Industry Chicago announced they would be closed beginning Thursday, November 19.

MSI Tier 3 closing

Safety precautions:

  • Greatly reduced dailly capacity,
  • Timed entry tickets for everyone including members,
  • Tickets booked online preferred so there can be fast contactless admission. 
  • Masks required 2 and up
  • Social distancing
  • Disposable styluses given out to use on museum touch screens
  • Grab and go food or bring your own allowed: storage info– no Brain Food Court or ice cream, but vending on site, and an outdoor tent on the lawn for dining.
  • Modified exhibits/Some exhibits closed like U505 and the Coal Mine, Idea Factory, Future Energy Chicago. 
  • Employees have daily health assessments
  • Rigorous cleanings, once an hour sanitizing, sanitizer stations.
  • AC run consistently to keep humidity and circulation at recommended levels
  • No water fountains. 

On Site Exhibits of Note: 

There’s a lot going on at MSI as per usual, so here’s a look at a few things you can see if you do venture out:

First, we’d love to draw your attention to the Black Creativity exhibit, exploring and celebrating 50 years of black creativity, that looks at the myriad important contributions of African American people in art and innovation.

There’s also a pretty great sounding movie we’re sure you wouldn’t want to miss  if you’re there, at the Giant Dome Theater, with Superpower Dogs, which is a look at all manner of heroic pooches on the big screen, narrated by Chris Evans.

Members enjoy early access as well as special Halloween activities this month and next, and Holidays of Light kicks off the holidays as per usual on November 13th.

If we’re lucky (and safe) now, we may all be able to attend the upcoming Marvel exhibit that opens March 4, 2021, too!

Online Programming and Activities:

As for online learning and interaction with MSI, you can subscribe to their Science at Home program, which will hand deliver ideas and activities for STEM learning to your inbox, or check out some of the Hands On Science videos that teach things like making elephant toothpaste at home. 

Through December, you can also hear a story, with Virtual Tuesday Tales with author Ruth Spiro:

There’s other videos to enjoy too, like the Great Train Story, a narrated tour of the often overlooked but impressive model train exhibit at MSI, or see the 3D Printer at work (in high speed) or even watch BB8 visit some baby chicks. MSI’s got a ton of entertaining and educational videos to peruse, and many of them tie in to exhibits you know and love from being on site, making it feel a little less sad not to be there.



Underwater Beauty at the Shedd Aquarium. Photo by Marielle Shaw.

Shedd Aquarium

The Shedd Aquarium has been doing its best to keep people engaged with them since the original onset of the pandemic in March, with plenty of videos from resident penguins, otters and more regularly popping up in our social feeds to remind us that there’s still great, fuzzy, friendly, beautiful things out there in the world. They’ve also been working very hard to bring science and the sort of hands on experiences with scientists that kids and parents get by going to the Shedd possible online, with virtual experiences that allow folks to ask real-time questions to scientists whose job it is to interact with all these amazing animals. And they’re providing moments of Zen when you need them with things like Underwater Beauty’s live cam, a colorful, quiet little place to recharge during a stressful day working at home.

Now that they’re open, that all continues, but the work on site begins to keep people as safe as humanly possible, and in a lot of ways, Shedd manages to get it right by providing oceans of information, being willing and able to communicate and change plans if things aren’t working right, and setting the standards for how to handle “these trying times.” And they’ve managed to do it WHILE incorporating adorable animals and simultaneously answering just about every question you could think of on how things work now so that no matter what the circumstances are, you’ll know what to expect.

Open: NO

UPDATE: The Shedd Aquarium has recently announced it will be closed to visitors for the remainder of this year. For more details, see the Shedd Aquarium’s Facebook statement below:


Safety Precautions:

  • Advanced Tickets mandatory
  • All tickets are timed
  • Limited number of guests
  • There are a set amount of tickets for each time slot
  • All visitors 2 + required to wear masks, mask must cover the mouth and nose at the same time. 
  • Daily employee health screenings
  • Rescheduling help with visits if you’re not feeling well on the date you bought the ticket
  • Accomodations for corporate partners and those using things like CITYPASS
  • Clear instructions and signage on where to enter (Accessible entrance only) and staff stationed outside to assist
  • Bag checks 
  • Plexiglass barriers between bag check and visitors
  • Directional signage
  • No aquatic presentations for now
  • Distanced Stingray Touch when weather permits
  • Smaller “touch” experiences are look only for now, and play experiences closed.
  • Emphasis on social distancing.
  • Food courts open with tables 6 feet apart, and outdoor seating
  • Shedd gift shop open, with guidelines on social distancing and a request to only touch what you’re going to buy

On Site Exhibits of Note:

At the Shedd they’re offering some great online content that includes the exhibits you’ve been missing attending in person, ensuring that those who are not ready to attend in person can still interact with all the amazing critters that the Shedd houses.

As it turns out, much of Shedd’s premium experiences could be translated to online experiences, and if you’re itching to come face to face with otters, sea lions or penguins you can do that. Purchasing these experiences not only gets you an amazing experience with the animals, but also allows for you to ask their caretakers questions live and have them answered.

As we mentioned before if you’re just looking for a little zen, it’s never a bad idea to check out the live cam for the stunning Underwater Beauty exhibit and relax.

Shedd Aquarium, Underwater Beauty mural.

Or, if you’d like to get outside and still connect with the Shedd, you can check out the beautiful Underwater Beauty murals that are all over Chicago, from Bronzeville to Edgewater, Englewood, Forest Park and Logan Square. Check out the map and plan a photographic exhibition to see them all.

You can also get kids involved with fantastic STEM experiences and learning with Shedd’s Stay Home with Shedd programming, for Grades 3 to 5, which is completely free, as is their series Sea Curious which is for kids by kids and explores the aquarium to learn about the animals there and both include free activity guides and instructions for parents, teachers and kids.

There’s also free VR google expeditions, audio guides and storytelling as well as penguin tours around the entire Shedd and animal channels galore that let you in on the lives of all the creatures you love to see most when you’re on site.



Adler Planetarium

The Adler Planetarium always encourages a sense of awe and wonder in the world with its fantastic reminder to “Look Up” and it’s been a source of calm and inspiration since this all began. Adler’s currently not open, but has blown open its doors online for a host of activities and perhaps connected with the community in Chicago more now than it ever has before, encouraging people to realize that even when we’re apart we share the same amazing world and can stand together in awe of the universe around us.

Open: NO

Safety Precautions:

On Site Exhibits of Note: n/a

Online Programming and Activities:

Online Adler encourages people to “Keep Looking Up” from home with a vast array of awesome programming that in our opinion is really bringing new life and a sense of hope to the city. Everyone can see the night sky (or the sky during the day) and everyone can learn about the sun, stars, moon and other amazing space phenomenon. Adler makes the vastness of space into a comforting blanket that holds us together with curiosity and we’re all about it.

Here’s some ways you can be a part of Adler’s spaced out community:

Take part in the biweekly live YouTube series they’re doing, Adler Astronomy Live. The most recent episode talked all about sundials, including the Adler’s own giant outdoor sundials and showing off some of the Adler’s vast collection of the astronomical tools. They frequently have amazing guests, and this was no exception, featuring Dr. Sara Schechner, the David P Wheatland Curator of the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments at Harvard and Pedro Raposo, the Adler’s Curator and Director of Collections, in a live, interactive conversation that actively asks for audience participation (and gets it, from as faraway a place as Cairo, Argentina, Germany and Australia)

Another great live experience also happening biweekly is the Sky Observers Hangout, where some of Adler’s best talk about all sorts of different topics from the Fall Sky and identifying constellations and stellar bodies as well as things like how we’re approaching Mars exploration and more.

If you want to be involved more frequently, there’s also a weekly show, called, appropriately, SkyWatch Weekly, which features super chill host Nick Lake talking about what’s to see right now and shares images he’s obtained from his telescope and DSLR while he discusses what you’re able to see.

Captain Adler. Adler Planetarium.

They’ve also got their Adler ‘Scope Blog, stories from the YOUniverse podcast, and virtual exhibitions including 13 Stories with Captain James Lovell, and even the opportunity to welcome Captain Adler the flatstronaut into your home, customize him and take selfies for science. 

There’s a great list of science at home activities and the opportunity to work with Zooniverse to actually help other humans during this time and a beautiful creativity encouraging #LookUp Book.



Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute holds some of the most incredible treasures of art in the entire world, with a fabulous collection of artworks it’s stunning to say we’ve always been able to see in person at our leisure, which is why it’s been a notable loss to have had the doors closed. Yes, you can see fantastic works of art online, and we encourage you to do that as we continue to go through this pandemic, but there is certainly something special and even life-changing about standing in front of Van Gogh’s self portrait and experiencing the visceral texture and amazing vibrance of every brush stroke.

The Art Institute has also opened its doors again, and allowed for those in person experiences for those who feel safe enough to attend. Safety measures are in place, including a real time wait time checker to help you gauge when it might be best to go and when might be best to avoid.

Open: NO

UPDATE: In a statement on the Art Institute of Chicago’s website, they made the following statement:

“Since reopening in late July, the Art Institute has warmly—and safely—welcomed visitors back to the galleries to experience firsthand the transformative power of art.

However, due to the governor’s new directives for the state of Illinois, the museum will immediately be closed to visitors.

If you have already purchased tickets to visit the museum in the coming weeks, the cost of your tickets will be refunded to the card on which you made the purchase within 10 business days. All virtual programming will continue as planned.

We will continue to work with Chicago and Illinois public health departments and will update our website with any new developments.”

Safety Precautions:

  • Closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Hours change on October 15 hours to normalize, meaning it’s 10 to 11 am members only thursday through monday and then 11 to 6 for all visitors with tuesday and wednesday closed.
  • Advanced ticket purchase required for public, but members don’t need tickets
  • Face coverings required
  • Six foot distance required from people not in your group
  • Checkrooms closed, as well as restaurants, valet, the Member Lounge and libraries, and the Ryan Learning Center.
  • Shops open but limited capacity, guests will need to wait to be admitted
  • Some areas of the museum now have one-way traffic
  • Some galleries have limited capacity or are closed. 
  • Shields in use at admissions
  • Hand sanitizer stations
  • Touchscreens removed from exhibits
  • Staff temp checks and health screenings every day.
  • Water fountains converted to bottle filling stations
  • Museum is at 25% capacity to adhere to city guidelines
  • On line wait time monitoring, and special exhibits like El Greco have virtual wait lists.
  • All in person events cancelled through end of the year, with virtual events replacing them
Interactive Influence: Artists Connect. Art Institute of Chicago. Photo: Marielle Bokor.

On Site Exhibits of Note : 

As we mentioned before, Monet in Chicago was one of the things we most looked forward to, and it’s here. Though you can always see an impressive collection of one of the founders of impressionism’s works at the Art Institute, you may not have thought much about how that came to be, and Monet and Chicago fills in those blanks while you peruse the largest collection of works by Monet outside of Paris itself.

Something else you may want to catch is El Greco: Ambition and Defiance, which closes on October 19th and offers a comprehensive overview of the artist’s works and career. If you won’t be in the building though, you can also experience the exhibition online, but you’ll still need to hurry.

A newer exhibit to explore is Malangatana: Mozambique Modern, which looks at painter, poet and national hero Malangatana’s life and works. It’s vibrant, interesting and introspective and provides a look at both the culture he comes from and the artist himself.

Art Institute of Chicago. Photo: Marielle Bokor

Online Programming and Activities:

The Art Institute has got some virtual things going, besides the virtual portion of the El Greco exhibit mentioned above. Upcoming, there are talks with curators, a member exclusive walkthrough of Monet and Chicago, and virtual lectures, like October 15th’s with Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Curator Jordan Carter, which will be about Crosby’s art and influences and how it comes through in her work.


This is just a start to our Fall Guide, as as you can see, there are a lot of Chicago’s great institutions we haven’t covered here. In Part 2, we’ll catch up with the National Museum of Mexican Art ahead of Dia de Muerto, the Notebaert, the Chicago History Museum, the Holocaust Museum and more, so check this space and enjoy our fantastic museums from home, or as safely as possible in person, by knowing before you go.


Marielle Bokor
Marielle Bokor