Chicago’s Cultural Institutions Reopen With New Restrictions


Chicago’s cultural institutions are beginning to reopen after shutting their doors in mid-March as the coronavirus spread. And as with so many other activities, there are new guidelines in place for visitors.

During phase four of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s reopening plan, museums are limited to 25% capacity. In addition, interactive rides and exhibits must be closed and guided tours can include no more than 50 people.

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Some of Chicago’s largest cultural institutions are in the process of reopening. And when they do, the Shedd Aquarium, Museum of Science and Industry, Field Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago will have hand sanitizer at the ready and require face coverings and physical distancing.

“If you’re sick, we’re asking you to stay home,” said Rabiah Mayas, Davee Vice President of Education at the Museum of Science and Industry. “We’re asking our staff that, as well as our guests, so that we are protecting everyone who’s in our building.”

Tickets must be reserved or bought in advance at the MSI, the Art Institute and the Shedd. While the Field Museum doesn’t require tickets to be purchased in advance, it encourages guests to do so as a way of avoiding in-person lines.

The Shedd Aquarium was among the first to reopen, welcoming members and sponsors on July 1 and the public on July 3.

“We’ve seen a lot of guests coming through, especially on weekends,” said Meghan Curran, senior vice president of marketing, guest relations and sales at the Shedd Aquarium.

The Field Museum opened last Friday to members, and will open July 24 to the public.

“It’s been very exciting to actually welcome our members into the building who are truly vested and love our institution,” said Darnell Williams, director of guest relations at the Field Museum.

Meanwhile, the Art Institute of Chicago will reopen on Thursday, July 30, with free admission for Illinois residents until Aug. 3. The MSI will open its doors Saturday, Aug. 1, with free admission until Aug. 14.

The changes coming to museums has also come with a new mindset, said Hilary Branch, executive director of museum initiatives at the Art Institute of Chicago.

“Crowds and lines were, for us, something to be excited about,” Branch said. “That meant that things were popular, that people were coming and visiting. They’re now a sign of something that we don’t want.”

Instead of in-person lines for exhibits, guests will be able to stand in virtual lines using their phones.

  • The Shedd Aquarium opened on July 1 at 25% capacity and with timed-entry tickets. (Courtesy Shedd Aquarium)

    The Shedd Aquarium opened on July 1 at 25% capacity and with timed-entry tickets. (Courtesy Shedd Aquarium)

  • The Art Institute of Chicago will open on July 30. Though guests must buy tickets ahead of time, they can arrive at whatever time they want the day their ticket is reserved for. (Courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago)

    The Art Institute of Chicago will open on July 30. Though guests must buy tickets ahead of time, they can arrive at whatever time they want the day their ticket is reserved for. (Courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago)

Though they are able to reopen, museums are still facing the financial impact of having to close, and then open at just 25% capacity. 

The Shedd Aquarium operates on a budget of roughly $60 million, and 70% of that comes from guests, Curran said. Though the Shedd has expanded to paid virtual summer camps, among other initiatives to bring in funds, it expects to end the year with a shortfall of $23 million.

“Support continues to be really important,” Curran said.

The reopening come at a time when COVID-19 cases are rising in Illinois and across the country. That has some wondering if restrictions will tighten – especially since the mayor’s office announced that bars without food menus will no longer be able to serve customers indoors.

“We’re continuing to watch the data very closely, our leadership team and our staff are paying close attention to what’s happening in the city and we will continue to operate under city and state guidelines as things change,” Mayas said. “We’re just really excited to open on Aug. 1.”


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