Free (or, at least, steeply discounted) fun awaits at Chicago's art institutions.
Sure, you’re living on ramen, but there’s no reason to deprive yourself of culture as well as nutrition. All of the city’s galleries and some of its museums are free, and many offer sweet deals to students.
Art Institute of Chicago 111 S Michigan Ave (312-443-3600, artic.edu/aic). Given that the Art Institute of Chicago’s student admission is $12, if you plan to visit more than three times, or more than once with a friend, it’s worth buying its $40 annual student membership, which yields free admission for two adults. Admission’s free anyway on Thursdays, 5–8pm. The museum frequently schedules fab lectures on Thursday evenings that don’t cost a dime; for details, check its new online calendar.
Chicago Urban Art Society 2229 S Halsted St. This new nonprofit promotes street art and other edgy genres with exhibitions and workshops. Admission to shows is free; a $20 annual membership scores discounts at local vendors such as Blue City Cycles, Wicker Park bookstore Quimby’s and our fave Lincoln Park study spot, Noble Tree Coffee and Tea.
Gallery 400 UIC, 400 S Peoria St (312-996-6114, gallery400.aa.uic.edu). The gallery’s not afraid of taking risks with its exhibition program, and its free Voices lecture series and Talking Cure panel discussions on Tuesdays at 5pm bring in fascinating artists and scholars.
Graham Foundation 4 W Burton Pl (312-787-4071, grahamfoundation.org). Architecture and design addicts should get on the Graham’s mailing list for the scoop on free shows and talks. Recent speakers included trendy Danish architect Bjarke Ingels and the Center for Urban Pedagogy’s director Damon Rich.
Intuit 756 N Milwaukee Ave (312-243-9088, art.org). Chicago’s one of the best places in the U.S. to learn about self-taught artists such as Vivian Girls creator (and local) Henry Darger, and it’s largely due to this unique exhibition space. While admission’s only $5, repeat visitors should consider the $25 annual student membership, which gets two adults in free.
Museum of Contemporary Art 220 E Chicago Ave (312-280-2660, mcachicago.org). Psst: The MCA’s $7 student admission is suggested, which means you can pay less. But we’d rather you shortchanged the recording industry, so why not shell out for the $30 annual student membership? You’ll score two guest passes; discounts of up to 20 percent off classes, workshops and performances; and a 10 percent discount at the MCA Store, which is a good place to snag hip holiday gifts.
If $30 takes too big a bite from your pizza budget, visit on Tuesdays when the museum’s free and open until 8pm. The MCA offers a limited number of $10 student tickets to performances and discounted $6 tickets to its impressive lectures. (Andrea Zittel and Kerry James Marshall spoke in spring 2010.) Starting this October, the MCA’s Tuesday Evenings in the Café series features a well-curated mix of artists’ talks, Magical Musical Showcase concerts and Doodleganza art workshops—all free.
School of the Art Institute of Chicago Visiting Artists Program SAIC Auditorium, 280 S Columbus Dr (312-899-5187). SAIC students can catch this amazing lecture series for free. Tickets for other students are a mere $3, and it’s worth it to hear art stars such as spring 2010’s Doug Aitken and Ryan Trecartin in person. SAIC’s Conversations at the Edge (Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N State St, 312-846-2600) film and video screenings are $7 for students ($4 if you attend SAIC).
Loyola students can visit the Loyola University Museum of Art for free, and SAIC students get free admission to the Art Institute and MCA. The University of Chicago Arts Pass is good for free admission to the MCA and Art Institute as well as membership privileges at the HPAC and several other institutions—which almost makes us want to go back to school.
Note: Make sure to bring your student ID if you’re requesting a discount.