If you’re an art lover on a budget, Chicago is the perfect town for you. The best free art galleries in the city, much less the world, are all readily accessible. Some of the city’s best museums and galleries charge no admission at all, and some even throw in free guided tours and host lectures.
Free art activities in Chicago aren’t just limited to works on display; many free art galleries also host hands-on activities where participants can create their own art while learning from professionals. Check websites ahead of time to make sure you don’t miss workshops, artist talks, or whatever other amazing programming an art space might have. In the summertime, many of these institutions hold programs for kids and teens, helping them develop their appetite for art and creative eye. They’re just a piece of what makes Chicago such a world-class art city, albeit an important part.
At IPMM, we value art and art education that is accessible. These free art spaces embody the mission of making art accessible and easily available, which we think is hugely important in fostering the next generation of artists and creatives.
Here is a list of some of the best free art galleries, museums & experiences in Chicago.
The Art Institute of Chicago – One of the oldest and largest art museums in the United States, and the crown jewel of Chicago’s art scene, Illinois residents get free admission to this world class institution on the first and second Wednesdays of every month. The museum offers free lectures and tours and the Ryan Education Center lets families make collages and sculptures while learning basic and advanced art techniques. The Modern Wing is the newest addition to the otherwise classical architecture of the Art Institute, and its jaw-dropping airy interior is just as much of a draw as the modern and contemporary art housed inside.
Hyde Park Art Center – The oldest alternative visual arts center in the city, the Hyde Park Art center is the most extensive collection of modern art produced by local artists, on display free of charge. In addition to artist talks and studio classes, on the second Sunday of each month, the center hosts an event where families can drop in and do hands-on activities with stamps, painting or architecture.
Instagreeter – InstaGreeter turns the city of Chicago into a free, open-air museum. Volunteers lead you on a guided tour of the history and architecture of iconic Chicago neighborhoods. The year-round tours leave from the Chicago Cultural Center every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. No reservations are required, making it a perfect last-minute activity to entertain visitors or to test your city knowledge against other long-time Chicagoans.
Chicago Cultural Center – Sitting on the location of Chicago’s original public library, the Chicago Cultural Center hosts free art exhibits, featuring works by local creators and international talent. Come see the world’s largest Tiffany glass dome or attend a free concert in the building’s Preston Bradley Hall. Besides the art exhibits, you can enjoy the communal space where residents come to read, write, play chess, and talk. Strike up a conversation about the art that you just saw and you may make a new friend.
Renaissance Society – Located on the University of Chicago’s campus, the Renaissance Society is not your traditional Renaissance gallery. The white walls and high ceiling create a hyper-resonant environment that’s perfect for the funky, avant-garde works inside. As an independent museum which has no permanent collection, the Renaissance Society is always changing up what’s on display inside.
Museum of Contemporary Photography – Since 1976, the Museum of Contemporary Photography has collaborated with artists and photographers to present exhibitions of analog and digital images and presented their work free of charge to the public.
Comfort Station – Previously a place where trolley riders stopped to rest, the Comfort Station has been a treasured community art space since 2010 that regularly hosts art exhibitions, live music and film screenings while providing a public meeting place for art appreciators of all ages. They also host the Comfort Society series, a roster of talks which run the gamut of any and all possible topics. They are held every Sunday at 1pm, and are totally free.
National Museum of Mexican Art – The NMMA is a one-of-a-kind museum, and one of the jewels in Chicago’s crown as one of the foremost American art cities. Located in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, the NMMA exhibits work from over 3,000 years of Mexican art, both in Mexico as well as art by ex-pats, here in America. Their bilingual exhibition materials, free admission, and intersectional curation make this museum a place which welcomes all. Stay tuned for some of their amazing talks, tours, screenings, and so much more.
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