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.
The Bottom Dollar
The best part about bringing your kids to ARTIC? Free admission for children ages 14 and under. Chicago adult residents will pay $14, unless you’re interested in combining the experience with other Chicago staples like the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, Museum of Science and Industry or Willis Tower’s Skydeck. The price range for these add-ons is $29-$79. Or, you can pop in on a Thursday evening from 5 p.m.-8 p.m. for free admission.
- The two massive bronze lions that flank the ARTIC Michigan Avenue 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).
- The lions have 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!
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 their impressionism and post-impressionism art. They have one of the largest collections of late-nineteenth-century French art in the world.
- No outing is complete, when you have kids in tow, without a stop at the Ryan Education Center. This kids mecca offers 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, which includes sandwiches, pizzas and desserts – gelato, anyone? Self-service dining is available from 11 p.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. If you’re hitting up the free night on a Thursday, you can enjoy live jazz music until 7:30 p.m. Bonus: members of the museum receive a 10% discount in all ARTIC restaurants.
If you just want a little something to nosh on and you want to skip the museum dining experience, walk across the street to Seven Lions. They have delicious bites that can be enjoyed alfresco. Kids will love their lemonade, warm house rolls, French fries with garlic mayo, S’Mores bread pudding or a plate of cookies. The interior is swanky, cool and full of interesting art that would make any art enthusiast—young or young-at-heart—proud.
Ticket to Ride
Take your baby on a Stroller Tour October 12 from 11:30 a.m.-noon. Roll up to Griffin Court in the Modern Wing for an experience created specifically for children 18 months and younger. Reservations are required for this event, which is $10/members or $25/non-members.
It’s All in the Details
Strollers are allowed in the galleries and there is stroller parking outside the Ryan Education 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.
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.
Art Institute Chicago
111 S. Michigan Ave.
Do you have another great tip for exploring ARTIC with kids? Share in the Comments below.
— Wendy Altschuler
photos: courtesy of Wendy Altschuler