Arts Pass allows free entry to Art Institute

The UChicago Arts Pass provides discounts, memberships, and special offers at a total of 27 cultural organizations in Chicago.

By Asher Klein

Students can now spend an afternoon at the Art Institute for nothing but the price of a bus ride downtown.

The UChicago Arts Pass, which began as a pilot program yesterday, provides discounts, memberships, and special offers at a total of 27 cultural organizations in Chicago.

Students now get free admission to the Art Institute and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). Some organizations offer students free membership, like the Smart Museum and the Oriental Institute, while others—including About Face Theater and the Hyde Park School of Dance—offer discounts for U of C students. Still others offer general student discounts and are listed to fulfill the program’s primary function—promoting art at the University.

“An important part about the arts at the University of Chicago is the fact that we are in this incredible city with all of these incredible arts organizations both close to campus and in the city,” said program co-founder Bill Michel, who is the director of the Logan Arts Center. “Our desire is to continue to strengthen our partnerships with those organizations and work to ensure that our students have the opportunity to take advantage of all that those organizations have to offer.”

Students—both undergraduates and graduates—get the discounts by showing their University IDs at the participating organizations. Faculty and staff, however, can only take advantage of the program at the MCA.

Program coordinator and fourth-year Ashtin Berry said one goal was to make arts programming more easily available for students. “I don’t care what major you are, if you’re a biology student, and you want to go see a play, you go see it.” To that end, a box office may be built in the Logan Arts Center where students can buy tickets to events at participating organizations.

Museums, theaters, dance studios, music halls, Hyde Park groups, the Neighborhood Writing Alliance, Chicago Arts Foundation, and the Gene Siskel Film Center are some of the organizations currently listed by the Arts Pass Web site. Berry, Michel, and Theaster Gates, the third founder of the Arts Pass, are still in negotiations with other groups to expand the program, Michel said, which will be fully rolled out at the beginning of next year.

The program is being paid for by donations from alumni, the College, the Provost’s office, the Logan Arts Center, and grants; the Student Activity Fee is not being used to fund the program, Michel said. In some cases the University provided “some financial support to open up access for our students,” Michel said, declining to go into specifics, but added that in many did not.

Peter Walton, the MCA’s Chief Financial Officer, said the University paid $6,500 for unlimited admissions for its students for a year, a number that was up for negotiation based on the number of students who attend.

Walton said the MCA is anticipating one thousand or more students to attend starting next year. “Anything that increases foot traffic…is going to be good for the artists,” Walton said.

The Arts Pass is modeled after similar programs at other universities, Michel said, adding that while it is unique among liberal arts schools in Chicago, it might serve as a model for other schools. Walton said the Museum only had one similar program in place, with the visual arts–focused School of the Art Institute.

The Arts Pass is the latest University initiative aimed at increasing students’ participation in the arts, including the creation and construction of the Logan Arts Center, which breaks ground May 12, and 60 Days of Arts.