Art Institute Free for All

After recent fee increases, free admission is in 'conversation stage'

After public outrage over the increased admission fees at the Art Institute, the museum's trustees are now considering lowering the price ... to nothing.

Up until 2006, visitors to the Institute could pay any admission price they saw fit. In March of this year, art lovers voiced their anger when the Chicago Park District Board approved a 50-percent increase in admission, from $12 to $18. Aldermen threatened to cut off the museum's free services, including water, license fees, and inspection fees.

While the museum did finally settle on the slightly lower price of $16, President James Cuno is hoping that one day the Art Institute can offer free admission.

"We're in the business of bringing people before works of art and providing them informed access," Cuno said, reports the Sun-Times. "The more access and the more informed access, the better."

The Art Institute would have to raise a significant amount of money—approximately $250 million—in order to afford free admission. Most fundraising campaigns in the past have only reached $60 million.

But Cuno and some trustees have been inspired by the completion of the new Modern Wing, a $410 million addition.

"I don't think right now you could stand up and say we're going to raise $250 million," Cuno told the Tribune. "It's not the easiest of times to start this, but you've got to start sometime and you have to start like this."

The current economy is the biggest hurdle in raising such a large sum of money. The museum is already experiencing limited budgets and decreasing revenue.

"There are a number of major institutions that are free, but I can't think of any that have made the switch in the recent recession," said Dewey Blanton, spokesperson for the American Association of Museums.

Cuno has emphasized that the idea is still only in the "conversation stage" and has not yet been formally introduced to the museum's board. Visitors shouldn't expect free admission any time soon, but it could happen in time for the 2016 Olympic Games, should Chicago win the hosting opportunity.

"Now that we've proven successful with a major [fundraising] campaign... now would be the time to keep going and dream big."

Matt Bartosik is the editor of Off the Rocks' next issue and is a "between blogs" blogger.

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