Comparing the cost of an Art Institute of Chicago membership

Collection of tickets from the Art Institute of Chicago

With my birthday coming up, Sarah gave me a few ideas of things to do. Helpful that this year my birthday is on a Saturday. (Side-note: It seems my birthday often falls on a weekend. Over the course of 100 years are some birthdays more prone to have weekend dates than other birthdays?)

One of my birthday options is going to the Art Institute of Chicago with the kids. When I worked in the Prudential Plaza, I used to go to the Art Institute multiple times a week during lunch! Oh, I loved that. (the image in this blog post is a collection of some of my tickets. They used to print artworks on the backs of their tickets).

The free museum pass from my bank really opened the Art Institute up to me. My museum visits really kicked into high gear when our work moved location from the Tribune Tower to Prudential Plaza. The Prudential was a small walk through Millennium park to get to the museum. Now my bank doesn’t offer that pass. They killed it this summer. Hrmpf. And coronavirus kicked us out of downtown. Now I work from home in the suburbs.

In the past I had a reciprocal Art Museum pass from the Walker Art Center. I’m considering that too. However, it’s slightly more than an Art Institute pass. Ok. Let’s get into the math of buying regular tickets at the ticket window versus getting an annual membership.

Comparing an annual membership vs buying one-off visit tickets

Based on my zip code, which is a suburb of Chicago, a one-day visit costs $22 per adult. Thus, with Sarah and I, one visit is $44 (kids under 13 years old are free).

Membership for one year (which includes two adults) is $105.

If I didn’t get the membership, if I spent $44 on one visit, then I would have to spend another $61 to spend. Let’s say we go another time. That’s $88 spent. So that’s $17 left. Ok, this is too much math. let’s simplify this.

In one year:

  • Two visits by family ($88)
  • One visit by me ($22)
    Cost: $110

Boom. There it is. In one year… to equate to the membership: you’d have to visit twice with the family, and once by yourself.

Would we really visit TWICE in a year? (we have a two-year-old and a 5-year-old). Once. Sure. But we don’t even go EVERY year. My five-year-old has been to the Art Institute two times in her life.

Let’s put in one visit by family

  • One visit by family ($44)
  • Three visits by me ($22)
    Cost: $110

Would I really visit on my own? Would I really go to the Art Institute on my own once a year? I can’t believe that I’m actually asking that question. I used to go multiple times a week!

Going on my own would entail a $10 Metra pass. (or $14 for parking). When I used to work downtown, I loved the idea of working from their membership lounge. But that’s because I was already downtown. Now I would have to take the time to get down there. Funny how it seems so much more challenging to go downtown when I’m not doing that regularly anymore. Plus, we have a kid in kindergarten, and I love walking her to school. By the time I walk her to school, walk to the train, take the train downtown, walk to the Art Institute. It would be something like 10am.

Would I work from the Art Institute membership lounge? Well, if spend the time going downtown, I would want to be walking around the museum—not doing my regular day job from the membership lounge. If I were to go to the Art Institute these days, I’ll just take the day off to walk around the museum, and enjoy it.

Actually, maybe that’s something I really need in my life right now. I need to have the dedicated days to go to the museum. Enjoy the artwork. Even make my artwork in the museum (I have at least 13 such projects where I make art in the museum. I have even more museum projects not in that blog post).

Library museum pass

Chicagoland libraries have free passes to a whole bunch of museums. However, my library doesn’t have the Art Institute of Chicago on their list.

A reciprocal museum pass might save more money

Another thought to consider. The Walker Art Center has a reciprocal membership to 1,200 museums across America. That membership is $125/year. So it’s an extra $20 on top of the Art Institute membership. I had Walker reciprocal pass or a few years. It was great to get into BOTH of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art and the Art Institute. Plus, if I was traveling, I could get into other museums too.

The full list of Illinois museums on the Walker reciprocal pass

That list makes it very tempting. However, these days I’m questioning if I’ll even go to my primary museum enough. So I would probably stick to the Art Institute pass—if I get it. Maybe. Hmmm.

Elmhurst Art Museum has a $100 reciprocal pass for +900 museums nationwide. (Elmhurst is a suburb that’s a 26-minute drive from me). Now we are talking a bit more. This is cheaper than the Art Institute pass.

The only thing with a reciprocal is that you have to wait in the regular ticketing line to show your pass to get a physical ticket. If I had an Art Institute membership, I wouldn’t have to wait in line. Instead, I could just show my membership card at the security gate. Actually, I don’t mind so much waiting in line. Especially in the days when the Art Institute used to print artwork on the backs of the physical tickets.

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