Fall Museum Guide, Part Two: More on How to Enjoy Chicago’s Museums Safely This Fall

The Chicago History Museum.

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.

In Part One of our Fall Museum Guide, we looked at what was happening around Museum Campus and downtown, with the city’s most well-known museums. In Part Two, we’ll be looking at many of the amazing museums that often get less attention but certainly deserve more, to see what’s happening with them in light of COVID-19 and what their virtual presence is like.

As we’re seeing cases rise sharply in Chicago right now, we urge readers to consider every trip outside their home that is non-essential and remember to wear masks and enforce social distancing. There are many brand new amazing programs happening at many of the museums listed in our previous installation and this one, and much can be enjoyed and learned through them.

Still, if you are making a choice to head to one of Chicago’s fine institutions, we want to make you aware of what is there and how each institution is committing to keeping its patrons safe, if its doors are open. Also, as the situation develops, some of this information will change, and we will add updates to this article as soon as possible if opening and closing information changes.


I Was Raised On The Internet @MCA Chicago. Photo by Marielle Shaw.

MCA Chicago

The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago is a great place to get a look at some of the most interesting, important art of our time, and is a place pre-COVID I often dropped in on when I was in the area. Its galleries are well curated and its relatively small size make it easy to drop in on in an afternoon to admire all the amazing exhibitions on display, and its theater is often host to a huge array of performance art and conversations. 

Open: NO

UPDATE: According to MCA Chicago’s website, the building will be temporarily closed for 2 weeks , with a goal reopen date of December 4.

COVID 19 statement via MCA Chicago’s website.

Safety precautions:

The most prominent piece of safety info posted at MCA is in regards to travel from a state identified on the Chicago Travel Quarantine List. MCA urges visitors coming in from those states to respect the 14 day quarantine period and states that “Visitors who have not quarantined will not be admitted.”

The museum further adds that they took steps while closed to ensure the safety of its present and future guests, including:

  • Disinfecting public spaces and deep cleaning of all office spaces
  • Adding hand sanitizing stations throughout the building
  • Closing and uninstalling “artworks and engagements that require touch.”
  • Evaluated their HVAC system
  • Trained staff on new safety practices based on CDC, state and city guidelines. 
  • Additional safety measures at the museum currently include:
  • Establishing a dedicated visitor path, as well as designating one entry point–through the museum store on Pearson Street.
  • Placing Visitor Experience Associates throughout the museum to help visitors
  • Managing occupancy and requesting that patrons reserve tickets online prior to visiting, though you may also get a limited amount of tickets at the admissions desk
  • Shields installed at areas where staff must directly interact with customers
  • Coat checks are closed
  • High risk hours at 11am-noon 
  • Backyard and sculpture garden are open
  • Plaza is open, and Farmer’s Market, SOAR continues
  • If visitors forget or lose masks, the admissions desk can provide them “in a pinch”
  • Established a Code of Conduct that everyone who enters the space must agree to to enter.
  • Set up a handy FAQ that covers all other questions, including what type of cleaners are used, what to do if you forget your mask, and what you should do with bags or personal items.
Installation view, Just Connect, MCA Chicago July 17–November 8, 2020
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

On Site Exhibits of Note: 

On site now is JUST Connect, a pandemic focused selection of pieces from the MCA Collection meant to reflect the feel of this point in our history, and exploring the various ways we all connect. This is an exhibit to see soon if you’re interested though as it leaves on November 8. 

Also of interest is Alien Vs. Citizen, which runs through February 21, 2021, which is an exhibit which came about because of a conversation about “aliens of extraordinary ability” and discusses ‘how an individual’s value is understood in relationship to community.’

Online Programming and Activities:

The MCA features some online programming and activities that include Screenings and virtual talks. These events don’t happen particularly often but appear to be well thought out and carefully curated in the same way we have come to expect from MCA. 

There’s also a good amount of Halloween fun up and coming at MCA, with SCREAMING: A Makeup Tutorial with AFAB drag performer Lauren Elyse, which takes place on Instagram Live this Wednesday from 12pm to 12:30 and enjoy conversation and instruction on makeup as an art form and the queer community in Chicago.

Follow that up with SCREAMING’s big event, SCREAMING: A Spooky-Queer Party, happening Friday October 30 from 7 to 9 pm. This virtual Halloween bash is 21+, $10 (a lot less than a lot of us would spend going out on Halloween, to be sure) and will be hosted by Miss Toto. It’s a dance party full of “vaporwave-meets-screamo” music performances with visuals by Fire Toolz, there’ll be a costume contest judged by performers and MCA staff, and interactive performances by Lauren Elyse and Gravity Balmain in

If that’s not enough MCA for your tastes you can also check out The Commons Online, the community space that is the central hub for all of MCA’s virtual content. It includes the museum’s blog, curriculum and talks for educational purposes for people of all ages, peeks at the merch in what is our favorite museum store in Chicago, Interviews, and even looks back at past archives and exhibitions. 



National Museum of Mexican Art. Photo: Marielle Shaw.

National Museum of Mexican Art

The National Museum of Mexican Art is a huge treasure, and if you’ve not been, you’ve thus far missed out. Especially as we approach Dia de los Muertos, NMMA is an incredible place to celebrate heritage, learn about Mexican culture and appreciate the vibrant, layered work of its artists. NMMA has decided to keep its physical doors closed but has an insane amount of online programming including a fantastic virtual tour of their annual Day of the Dead exhibit. This year’s is titled Sólo un poco aquí and runs through December 13. The NMMA will also hold its wildly popular Love Never Dies Ball virtually this year, and you can find more information about that here.

Open: NO

Administration for the museum expects that NMMA will be closed through the end of 2020, at which point they will “re-evaluate the COVID-19 pandemic situation.”

Safety Precautions: n/a

On Site Exhibits of Note: n/a

Online Activities and Programming:

As we mentioned, Sólo un poco aquí, the NMMA’s Dia de los Muertos exhibition, should not be missed. There are completely free virtual tours of this exhibit conducted every Saturday and Sunday, with the tour conducted in English beginning at noon and in Spanish at 1:00 pm. This year’s exhibit is particularly poignant, paying tribute to the numerous individuals from the community, Mexico, the US and the entire world who have died from COVID-19 and you can expect to see brand new installations, paintings and prints for this 34th annual exhibition.

Exhibits aside, NMMA has a vast array of online content, from lesson plans that teach kids how to analyze and interpret art as well as personally connect to it to coloring sheets and online puzzles everyone can enjoy.There are counting worksheets and even an I Spy game based on folk art and a mural for preschool and young school age kids, and word searches geared towards 1st and 2nd graders.

There are also a ton of DIY projects that cover everything from how to build an alebrije or pinata to how to make a zine or monoprint at home, and even how to live stream. NMMA is community focused and it shows in their vast online catalog of experiences.



Photo by Marielle Shaw

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum represents some of the best science learning opportunities in the city, and has a long history–the longest, in fact, of great science education in Chicago. The Notebaert is all about hands on learning and conservation and is a great place to get some face time with the world around us in Chicago and beyond, and they’ve dedicated themselves to providing the best digital museum experience in the city. So what does that look like? There is a huge amount of variety to their programming and all the amazing science education experiences are available to you directly in your home. There’s something for all ages. 

Open: NO.

Until the administration has “more certainty as to when this pandemic will be contained, we cannot identify a new opening date.”

Safety Precautions: n/a

On Site Exhibits of Note: n/a

Online Activities and Programming:

One of our favorite things the Notebaert is doing with its digital presence is Curious By Nature, a new YouTube series that brings scientists, facilitators and educators from the museum to the forefront for all manner of amazing things, from meeting turtles like Kennicott and learning about them to making leaf lanterns` or pressing flowers

There’s any number of interesting lectures and online events though, and classes can also go on virtual field trips that feature live interactive student workshops led by museum educators and there are also some fantastic educational resources like a collection of workbooks and activity guides to get into along with the Wonder at Home newsletter.

In short, there’s no reason you can’t get a great experience with the Notebaert online until you are able to come back and visit these amazing educators in person again.



The DuSable Museum of African American History. Photo by Marielle Shaw.

DuSable Museum of African American History

Sometimes the best way to describe something is to let it speak for itself, and in a letter regarding the DuSable Museum of African American History’s plans for the rest of 2020, President and CEO of the museum Perri L. Irmer said, “We are the oldest independent African American history museum in the nation, a Smithsonian Institution affiliate since 2016 and an iconic presence not only in Chicago but nationally. In reality, the DuSable is much more than a museum…we are also an education center, a cultural cornerstone, a convener of tough conversations, a  center for Black thought leadership and a truthful narrator of stories of Black excellence.”


No plans to reopen in 2020.

Safety Precautions: n/a

On Site Exhibits of Note: n/a

Online Activities and Programming:

In President Irmer’s letter explaining the decision to keep the DuSable’s doors shuttered through til 2021, he mentions the educational and conversational goals of the DuSable and the web based offerings. So what does that look like?

Currently, the museum’s offering a jazz series known as Cabin Fever with prominent jazz artists of color,  as well as Code Black, a webcast series that covers a variety of important topics including health and healing during crisis. Follow the DuSable on Twitter and Facebook to get updates on virtual offerings.



Oriental Institute Museum at University of Chicago. Photo: Marielle Bokor

Oriental Institute Museum at University of Chicago

The Oriental Institute Museum is one of those places that, once you’ve gone once make you wonder how you’d missed it in the first place. It covers the cradle of civilization when civilization first needed cradling, touching on the origin of just about everything and everyone, from the evolution of writing and math to ancient mysteries, mysticism and religion. The artifacts within its halls are amazing, and the work being done there on the daily is actively helping us understand how civilization began and how we can continue to thrive.


UPDATE:  The Oriental Institute closed as of November 14 and will remain closed through January. On the Oriental Institute at University of Chicago’s Facebook Page they had this to say:

COVID 19 closure announcement, Oriental Institute at University of Chicago.

Safety Precautions:

  • Limited attendance by reservation only
  • Reservations are made for half hour blocks, with one person per block and 8 people in the group max, with 1 hour to enjoy the museum max.
  • Gift shop closed
  • Everyone must wear masks, not only in the museum but on campus in general
  • Maintain social distancing.
  • Hand sanitizing stations in the lobby
  • Signage and floor rmarkings
  • Enhanced cleaning
  • Training
  • Contactless registration
  • Uninstalled interactive features temporarily, removed seating from galleries
  • Self reporting procedure set up. 

On Site Exhibits of Note: 

While there’s nothing inparticular to highlight here it’s solely because this relatively small museum packs a big punch. Whether you’ve never been or it’s been a while, it’s worth it to savor every bit of the amazing education the objects inside bring you about ancient civilization and how it shaped our lives through to today. 

Online Activities and Programming:

The Oriental Institute has a very formidable presence on YouTube, with series for Kids, Lectures, archived exhibits and special events and videos of different projects being worked on, including a series for OI’s Oral History Project. You can explore the collections from home and even tour the museum via Google Arts and Culture, and there’s a wealth of additional video content and educator resources available to explore too.



The Illinois Holocaust Museum. Photo by Marielle Shaw.

Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center 

The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, located just outside the city in Skokie, may well be one of the most important museums you can visit. By revisiting the atrocities of the past, and learning about the world around us and how to respond to racism, violence, hatred and bigotry, we can recognize and fight it. The Illinois Holocaust Museum draws on the strength of survivors and “upstanders” to teach people of all ages how to resist and stand up to hate, and how to become upstanders themselves, who will not be silent in the face of oppression and violence towards people of any race, creed, religion or orientation. 


UPDATE: Via the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center’s website:

“Governor Pritzker has announced that he is moving Illinois to Tier 3 Mitigation status as of Friday, November 20, which includes closing museums while we work together to flatten the pandemic curve.

The Museum will close at 5 PM on Thursday, November 19, and will remain closed to the public until the Governor permits us to reopen. At that time, we will throw open our doors, welcome back visitors, and resume safe operations. Since we reopened on July 15 after a four-month spring closure, we have implemented numerous safety protocols that have kept our visitors, staff, and volunteers safe. We can’t wait to resume public operations.

In the meantime, please visit our Virtual Museum, and join us for our robust slate of virtual public programsexhibition toursfield tripsstudent leadership daystrainings for educators and law enforcement, and our online store.

Stay safe, and thank you for your support.”


Safety Precautions: 

  • Emphasis on purchasing tickets online before arriving
  • Different hours–Wed-Sun 10 am through 5 pm. 
  • Visitors admitted one party at a time, household groups should enter together.
  • Face masks required
  • No coat check
  • Visitors will have temperature screenings via thermal camera upon entry, those with elevated temperatures must return at a later date
  • Hand sanitizer provided to all visitors on entry
  • Hand sanitization stations throughout museum
  • Pathways designated
  • No printed materials
  • Take a Stand Center closed as it relied on interactivity.

On Site Exhibits of Note: 

Even prior to the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Notorious RBG: The Life and Times exhibit was going to be a blockbuster. Based on the best selling book and Tumblr page of the same name, Notorious RBG is the first ever museum exhibit on this amazing woman, and is even more of a can’t miss now. And even if you can’t see it in person now, with a little luck, you’ll be able to catch it before its new end date, January 3, 2021 if you don’t catch it in a virtual tour before then. 

Online Programming and Activities:

As we mentioned, some of the museum’s exhibits can be toured online, including Notorious RBG. Upcoming tours of this exhibit are happening on November 4 and 18, but require registration and have a $10 admission fee,, so don’t delay if you want to see it


Coffee with a Survivor is an ongoing series you can and should catch on YouTube which features survivors speaking openly about their various experiences, and is a powerful tool for education for yourself, your children or really anyone, and an extremely important way of understanding the enormity of the Holocaust as well as other genocides and atrocities in order to work to prevent them.

Currently, there is also a virtual exhibition available on the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. 

If that’s not enough, the museum has added a virtual shop, which includes a lot of great RBG gear to show solidarity. 



Chicago History Museum. Photo by Christa Lohman.

Chicago History Museum

The Chicago History Museum is a great place to be, whether you’ve lived in or around Chicago your whole life or are newer to the area. It’s a treasure trove of artifacts that document the evolution of Chicago and what makes it unique and we can’t ever seem to get enough of its thoughtfully curated exhibits and fun events. 


UPDATE: In a statement provided to Third Coast Review by staff at the Chicago History Museum, they stated the following:

• The Chicago History Museum is closed to the public as of FridayNovember 20, 2020 until further notice.
• This closure comes in support of the State of Illinois and City of Chicago’s effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 as cases are surging across the state.
• We look forward to welcoming you back in our doors when it is safe to do so.
• The safety of our visitors and staff remains our top priority.
• All staff members who are able to work from home are required to do so.
• For staff whose work requires them to be onsite, strict social distancing, mask requirements,
and routine cleaning practices remain in effect.
• We are inspired by the resilience of our city and its community.
• We thank our visitors and supporters for their continued support of our mission.
• Our doors may be closed, but there is still so much history to experience from home.
 o Browse our online collections and exhibitions, virtual tours, VR experiences, family- friendly activities and educational resources.
o Visit www.chicagohistory.org to explore all of our virtual resources.
• In the meantime, stay safe, Chicago. See you soon!


UPDATE: Third Coast Review is seeking more information from the Chicago History Museum on closings and will update here with more information.

Safety Precautions: 

  • Out of state visitors are asked to follow Chicago’s Emergency Travel Orders and self-quarantine for 14 days prior to entering the museum. 
  • Tickets should be purchased in advance
  • Reduced hours
  • Research Center limited to 6 people per day with 48 hour advanced notice
  • All visitors 2 and over required to wear masks at all times inside the museum
  • Social distancing required
  • Hand sanitizer stations throughout the museum
  • Reduced space in bag and coat check. Backpacks, large bags, umbrellas, food and drinks are not allowed in the galleries, so please leave these at home.
  • Rescheduling for visitors who feel ill on their reserved visit date.
  • Sensing Chicago and other interactive features and elements closed.
  • Stylus pens in use for touch screens and interactive activities that are still in place.
  • Separate entry and exit points
  • Enhanced cleaning measures

On Site Exhibits of Note:

American Medina is another extremely amazing can’t miss exhibit, telling the stories of Muslim Chicago.it also represents the Chicago History Museum’s efforts to preserve oral histories of Chicagoans. American Medina draws from over 100 interviews with Chicago Muslims and speaks to their faith, identity and personal journeys–and, it’s an ongoing project. You can listen to the stories online, and even contribute your own!

Another wonderful on site exhibit is Millions of Moments: The Chicago Sun-Times Photo Collection which is of course, exactly what it sounds like. During the 20th century, the Sun-Times’ relentless dedication to photojournalism earned them the title “Chicago’s Picture Newspaper” and the exhibit features everything from politicians, sports and entertainment legends to everyday Chicagoans going about their business. The exhibit itself features 150 selected images, but new images are being shared as negatives are processed, and can be viewed through the museum’s online portal here. 

Online Activities and Programming:

Lucky for you if you’ve been missing the Chicago History Museum but have to stay at home, they’ve also got a full slate of virtual events on a variety of different Chicago-based themes. 

The next one, which so happens to be tomorrow, is a Devil in the White City Tour with guide Paul Durica helping attendees trace the footsteps of Daniel Burnham and H.H. Holmes alike. Other interesting upcoming virtual events include the Virtual Urban History Seminar on the 29th with Erik S Gellman of UNC Chapel Hill, presenting his lecture “Urban Spaces and Democratic Protest in Postwar Chicago: Historicizing the Street Photography of Art Shay” and for anyone who’s loving Lovecraft Country or those who love Lovecraft regardless, Halloween brings “Lovecraft Chicago: History, Horror & Afrofutures” which features a tour and roundtable of talks with noted artists, scholars and historians. Into November you’ll be able to explore things like the Pullman neighborhood, Pilsen murals and the Haymarket Affair to keep learning and sharing Chicago’s rich history. 


That’s another look at the amazing museums that surround us and how you can be safe and interact with everything they have to offer. Our museums are world-class treasures, and whether you’re planning on darkening their doors or staying at home, they deserve your support and attention. It’s more important now than ever to support these amazing institutions for a better future and better understanding of our past, and even if you can’t give directly, you can take part in all they have to offer to assure they’ll be able to offer more in the future–so take a tour, color a few pages, attend a virtual gala or learn how to cook something new, and get involved with your Chicago museums in new ways. 


Marielle Bokor
Marielle Bokor
Plan Your Life with 3CR Highlights

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