The Art Institute of Chicago (ARTIC) has way more than Renoir, Picasso, Monet and Van Gogh paintings to pique a mini art aficionado’s interest. Don’t be deterred by the quiet library-like atmosphere, read on to learn about kid-appropriate spaces that encourage little ones to discover, explore and, believe it or not, make some rowdy noise.
photo: Vernaccia via Yelp
Let’s Start with Some Fun Facts
The two massive, iconic bronze lions that flank the ARTIC Michigan Ave. entrance were made in 1893 and given as a gift from Mrs. Henry Field (Henry Field was the younger brother of department store magnate Marshall Field). And, they have some pretty epic names: In an Attitude of Defiance and On the Prowl.
The ARTIC has almost 300,000 works of art spread out over nearly a million square feet! That’s a lot of feet for little feet to walk, so we’ll help you break down the must-sees for littles.
What to See
The number one exhibit on our list is the Thorne Miniature Rooms. Peek in on 68 unnervingly realistic little rooms from different periods in European and American history, filled with little furniture and little lights and little fixtures—everything is little! There are many kid-friendly activities in this area, including a short tour that links to a book series about the Thorne Miniature Rooms.
The Arms, Armor, Medieval and Renaissance exhibit is also a family must-see. Where else can kids marvel at an authentic full suit of armor, with weapon in hand, perched on top of a fully decked out horse in metal armor? Children can walk by a massive collection of medieval art, metalwork, stained glass, jewelry, cannons and steel as far as the eye can see.
The ARTIC is known for its impressionism and post-impressionism art. They have one of the largest collections of late-nineteenth-century French art in the world.
The Ryan Learning Center, which hosts regular family activities is currently under construction to become an even more accessible, inclusive and creative space for all audiences to enjoy. Once it’s back up and running, you’ll find drop-in art classes with take-home projects that are thematically connected to artwork in the museum. Kids can also take part in age-appropriate programs and workshops.
The Family Room has toys, books and games that teach children about the ARTIC collection. On the weekend and for special events, engaging craft projects are offered. Across the hall from the Family Room, there are special exhibitions that change regularly, which encourage kids to learn, play and investigate.
Nibbles and Thirst Quenchers
The Museum Café, located on the lower level, has a full kid’s menu with kid-favorites. Self-service dining is available from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
In addition to the Museum Café, ARTIC offers a wide range of options, from casual to fine dining. If it’s nice outside, check out McKinlock Court. You might even get lucky and find live music on summer evenings. Bonus: Members of the museum receive a 10% discount in all ARTIC restaurants.
Family Activities to Jot Down
On the first Thursday of each month at 11 a.m., Picture This invites the youngest visitors to immerse themselves in picture books that correlate to and help them appreciate the works of art in the galleries.
For kids that want to explore their creative side, ARTIC provides the supplies for family-friendly sketching in galleries on select Saturday and Sundays.
It’s All in the Details
Strollers are allowed in the galleries and there is stroller parking outside the Ryan Learning Center Family Room. Strollers are not allowed in the Thorne Miniature Rooms. Take note that some of the elevators are not conveniently located, which requires a bit of navigating in and out of galleries to get where you’re going. There are, however, plenty of stewards that can direct you. For personalized tours of the collections, download the free Art Institute Tours app, available for Apple and Android devices.
Start your adventure at home with JourneyMaker, an innovative digital interactive kids can use to create their own one-of-a-kind adventure with works of art from the Art Institute’s collection.
The museum is usually busiest right when they open at 10:30 until after noon. A less crowded time to enjoy the art with your kiddos would be around 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. Also, the Modern Wing entrance on Monroe Street is often much less crowded than the Michigan Avenue entrance—which means shorter lines.
The Bottom Dollar
The best part about bringing your kids to ARTIC? Free admission for all children ages 14 & under and for Chicago teens ages 14-17. Chicago adult residents will pay $20 and Illinois adult residents pay $22. Or, you can pop in on a Wednesday evening from 5 p.m.-8 p.m. for free admission.
Art Institute Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave., Grant Park
— Wendy Altschuler