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Parents Talk: Are Museums Getting Too Expensive?

Even after cutting corners, a trip to the Field Museum cost $75 for one mom and one kid. Parents, please weigh in in the Comments section.

I couldn't resist the pretty picture of the box of chocolates promoting the Field Museum's "Chocolate" exhibit. But for one mom and one kid, the admission ($40, including the "Chocolate" special exhibit), CTA fares ($7), parking at the Cumberland CTA station ($5), lunch ($15), snacks ($6) and souvenir ($2) totalled a whopping $75.

For a family of four, double that, and if you drive down, figure in $19 or so for parking, plus gasoline.

We didn't bother to check our coats, for a charge of $2 for each item.

The museum was nearly empty (on a Tuesday). That leaves one to wonder: in these economic times, are Chicago's downtown museums pricing themselves out of the reach of some families?

Parents, please scroll down to the "Comments" and give your opinion.

Skokieguy November 09, 2011 at 01:25 PM
Bravo for this article. The museum's are tax-exempt non-profits. They all have volunteers in addition to paid staff. They all receive private and corporate donations and most have big fund raising balls, rent out for lavish private events, etc. Considering that a huge percentage of school age children live in poverty, the museum's have made themselves economically unavailable to those that could benefit most.
Julie Tiu November 09, 2011 at 02:44 PM
Agree - museums are definitely expensive and that's not including food and souvenirs. We find that signing up for family membership works in our favor as we'll visit more than once, and also use museum reciprocity at other locations. Then there's "free days". While it's a great idea, we tend to avoid the chaotic crowds.
Christine November 09, 2011 at 03:03 PM
Definitely too expensive. Its disheartening to think of how a simple trip to the museum or aquarium is simply out of reach for most folks who live paycheck to paycheck. The cost of a one-day trip to the museum for a family of 4 could be their grocery money for the week.
Pam DeFiglio (Editor) November 09, 2011 at 04:53 PM
In past years, I always knew visiting museums was expensive, but I never tallied it up before and was surprised with the final result. For so many people who are unemployed and underemployed, a trip like that could get out of reach. Even on free days, there's the cost of parking. And you have to feed your kids something.
Kathy Ruhnke November 09, 2011 at 07:36 PM
It's true - prices like these preclude a lot of kids and families from visiting museums (and sporting goods/other entertainment, for that matter). We tend to go to these attractions when there is a discount or coupon available. I've also noticed fewer school field trips being planned, undoubtedly for the same reason.
Jessica Sieghart November 09, 2011 at 08:35 PM
I'm not sure why the cost for a day's visit is so high at those places, but the cost of a yearly membership seems more than reasonable. It's almost as if they want you to purchase the membership, even though you could, in theory, go every single day. There must be some benefit to them.
Laura Wagner November 10, 2011 at 05:00 AM
I absolutely agree. And it wasn't always this way. When I was in college 25 years ago, the Art Institute had a RECOMMENDED donation of $4--which meant you could pay a quarter and get in if you were a poor student (or poor anybody). Now the required admission fee is $18. According to all inflation indexes, the buying power of $4 in 1987 equates to $8 in 2011. Now, $8 is reasonable; I would be happy to pay that to get in to the Art Institute. But $18? Spare me. A day out at a museum for my husband, my son, and me easily costs around $100 (that's including transportation, whether public or driving--both are between $20 and $30 for 2 adults and 1 child--and a very cheap fast-food lunch). Not something we can do more than once a year or so.
Pam DeFiglio (Editor) November 10, 2011 at 06:48 AM
Yes, the Art Institute used to let you pay the amount you wanted. It was a pretty progressive policy. I guess it was based on the idea that art is for everyone, rich, poor and in-between.
Robert November 10, 2011 at 03:40 PM
Not just museums, but everything is way too expensive. It used to be nice to take a ride into Chicago to go to the Science Museum, Field Museum, Adler Planetarium and the Art Institute. After visiting those places, we then used to go to someplace to eat and just look around. Not anymore. I feel Chicago is way too expensive. Not to mention parking fees even on Sundays. I'll take my business elsewhere. There are plenty of places in the suburbs that are way cheaper and just as fun.
Beth Buzil November 27, 2011 at 06:01 PM
There are still wonderful places that are quite affordable for the whole family. Just yesterday I visited the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago to see their ancient Egyptian exhibit with my son who just studied ancient Egypt in school. It's a wonderful museum on ancient civilization with a wonderful collection. Suggested donation is $7 for adults and $4 for kids. We parked right on the street just steps away from the entrance. So easy! The place is big enough but not so totally overwhelming and big like the Science or Field museum where I am always exhausted half way through. A volunteer took us on a very informative and personal tour at no extra cost. The gift shop had beautiful artifacts and tribal jewelry at very good prices. With the reasonable suggested donation at the entrance, I even had money left to spend on a beautiful old Moroccan hamsa pendant $11 and glass beaded earrings for $7 in the gift shop. Museum, tour, free parking and 2 beautiful gift shop jewelry gifts totaled $29. Not bad and we were able to splurge on dinner in Greek Town on our way home. This museum is really fabulous and we had a great day. Really who needs those huge rip off museums with all the bells, whistles, 3D movies and crowds? Really more to learn and see on a smaller scale. I highly recommend checking out some of the smaller museums.
Pam DeFiglio (Editor) November 27, 2011 at 08:08 PM
Good point, Beth. The Mitchell Museum of the American Indian in Evanston is another good smaller museum--lots of great stuff, manageable size and cost.

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