Worth It: Support The Arts While Giving Yourself A Mental Break


Much unlike many a magazine editor who recommends you buy all sorts of crap that they most likely got for free, your Jezebel staff doesn’t get jack shit (other than books, unsolicited). And that’s how it should be. But on our own time, in our personal lives, we still buy stuff. So this is Worth It, our daily recommendation of random things that we’ve actually spent our own money on. These are the things we buy regularly or really like, things we’d actually tell our friends about. And now we’re telling you.

I moved to Chicago in 2005 after graduating from college, and after a couple years of eating tubed meats, drinking a lot of beer, and spending my evenings shouting conversations at people in bro bars, I’d had about enough of that scene and the noise it insists upon. Parks were full of children and dogs, neither of which are quiet. The train to and from work every morning was a sardine can of parkas and smells of other people. The three small boys that ran around in my neighbors yard were cute, but noisy. I needed to find some silence, some space. And then, two years later than I should have, I finally discovered the Art Institute of Chicago— huge, open, silent, clean, and beautiful. After visiting a few times, I finally buckled down and bought myself a membership. It’s one of my favorite things that I’ve ever bought.

The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the largest art museums in the world, but most non-Chicagoans know it from the scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when Ferris and his cronies stare at Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Art aficionados may know it for its extensive collection of impressionist paintings or it’s gigantic new Modern Wing that once featured an installation called “Clown Torture.” Former little kids who took field trips to the Windy City for school may remember the Miniature Rooms exhibit in the lower level or the two giant lion sculptures that guard the front stairs. I love spending time around the museum’s Edward Hopper paintings. You can get right up close to a Jackson Pollack painting. On weekdays, it’s never crowded.

After I bought my membership, I became a regular in the museum, sometimes wandering over there from my old finance/bank job during lunch, spending one entire rainy noon hour in the room with the big Buddha sculptures. The membership allows for me to bring a guest along, so I’ve brought boyfriends and friends and non-friends with me. When my parents are in town, I bring them. Once, a few friends and I got a little silly on various alcoholic beverages, wandered around Grant Park, and then stood in front of Marc Chagall’s White Crucifixion for probably 10 minutes, hyper aware of the fact that we were not supposed to be drunk in an art museum.

I’ve been dozens of times by now, but it’s a huge space, and one visit — or fifty visits, really — isn’t enough to see all of it.

Sure, it’s free to Illinois residents on the first and second Wednesday of the month, but the space, silence, and beauty that the Art Institute affords otherwise inundated urbanites is priceless and worthy of support. Suggested per-visit donations to the museum are hovering near $20, and a full year bare bones membership is only $80, which means that two visits with another person in tow or four solo visits over the course of a year means the membership pays for itself.

Other cities’ art museums are similarly affordable. A year’s membership to The Met is only $100; The Philadelphia Museum of Art only charges $70 for yearly membership. In Seattle, it’s only $65. Readers who live in Washington, DC or Los Angeles can visit the National Galleries or Getty Museum for free.

If you live in a city with an art museum, for the sake of your sanity, get yourself a membership. At the very least, it will keep the annoying din of daily life at bay. At the most, it might change the way you look at the world for the better.

The Art Institute of Chicago Membership, available online or in person at the Art Institute, $80.

Worth It only features things we paid for ourselves and actually like. Don’t send us stuff.

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