Prepare for sticker shock at the museum.
The Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners approved admission fee hike requests from the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and the Field Museum on Wednesday, but not without dissent from some board members who pushed back against Chicago residents bearing the brunt of the pain in their pocketbooks.
Representatives from both museums cited inflation, higher wages and benefits, fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and higher operating costs as factors behind the need to raise admission prices.
The Nature Museum is raising its entry fee for the first time in 15 years, and the hike is substantial. Chicago adults currently pay $9 for admission; the price will jump nearly 70% to $15 under the new fee structure. Non-resident adults will see their fee spike from $9 to $17.
Erin Amico, the Nature Museum’s new president and CEO, said even with the higher admission prices, the museum was still at the lower boundary of similar institutions, including its fellow Museums in the Park.
Looking at the same 15 years, the cost of staples like a pound of butter has gone up 90%, Amico said. “That’s the reality that we’re living in.”
Commissioner Donald Edwards questioned whether such a “significant one-time increase” was necessary, or whether a smaller bump would make more sense. “I think it’s a poor strategy to raise it all at once,” he said.
Amico said she and her team didn’t want to have to hit consumers with multiple smaller increases every few years.
The board ultimately approved the increase, with Edwards abstaining and Commissioner Jose Munoz voting against the measure. The museum expects the increase to bring in an additional $200,000 in revenue. (Click here for the Nature Museum’s complete fee structure.)
Le Monte Booker, the Field Museum’s chief financial officer, was next in the hot seat, making the case for the Field’s first increase since 2018.
Edwards honed in on the Field’s proposal to increase admission by $1 across the board for non-residents, but $3 for all categories of Chicagoans, from children to seniors to adults.
The disparity means that Chicagoans now receive less of a discount compared with the admission charged to out-of-towners. Given that the city’s taxpayers already provide the Field Museum with $4 million to $5 million annually in disbursements from the Park District, a signficant discount should be preserved, Edwards said.
Booker responded that the museum’s goal was to “standardize our (pricing) tiers.”
“I’m not sure I appreciate that part of your strategy,” Edwards said.
As with the Nature Museum, the Field’s increase was approved, this time with Munoz abstaining and Edwards not present for the vote. (Click here for the Field’s complete fee structure.)
Board Chairwoman Myetie Hamilton put both museums on notice, saying that the board would be requiring an increased level of reporting and accountability from the institiutions on a number of fronts, including requesting a breakdown by Chicago neighborhood of the museums’ visitors.
Hamilton also encouraged the museums to revisit their free day policies. Though the Field and the Nature Museum offer 52 free days a year, scheduling them on a weekday or frontloading them in January and February isn’t necessarily convenient for many Chicagoans, she noted.
And while both museums offer deeply discounted admission to low-income families, Hamilton questioned how well the offer is advertised to the people who would benefit from it.
“I want to stress access and exposure,” Hamilton said.