Family Friendly Art in the City This Summer


Chicago summers are, quite arguably, why we endure Chicago winters. With the lake, street fairs, farmers markets, concerts and just plain warm weather, there is always a reason to be out enjoying the city and the sun. Summer is also a great time to take outings with your family to explore the phenomenal art the city has to offer. From stroller tours to hands-on art making Chicago’s museums offer wonderful programs and events designed to entertain and inspire the entire family.

“The word ‘family,’ to us, doesn’t just mean ‘kid,’ said Liz Baill, Media Relations Coordinator at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). “‘Family’ is kids, parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters. So we like to think of family as simply ‘person,’ and we design many of our events to be engaging for people at these various stages in their lives.” 

On May 10, the MCA is hosting the next of their Family Days, which occur throughout the year. The theme of the event is “dream,” and it will include art-making inspired by authentic works of art in the museum. Local artists will help guide guests through the museum and through the activities. “It is creative, quality time.”

The Art Institute of Chicago offers similar events for the entire family. In addition to a wide selection of workshops developed specifically for parents and children of certain ages, the museum’s Bank of America Family Festival (June 7) and 19th Annual Kaleidoscope event (July 19) offer art-making and tours for families with kids of all ages – Kaleidoscope is even popular with teens, and includes events and activities run by some of the museum’s cultural arts partners from outstanding organizations around the city.

But what about parents with infants? Even these parents and caregivers have some great options. The Museum of Contemporary Art, the Art Institute, and the Chicago History Museum all offer stroller tours. While the content is geared towards adults, the environment is welcoming to small children. 

Chicago History Museum tours are led by Josh Eisenberg, a public historian and stay-at-home dad. On the tours you’ll explore Chicago’s parks, with a focus on their history and significant architecture and sculpture. Tours are offered throughout the summer and include visits to West Town’s Union Park, Millennium Park and Lincoln Park. 

At the MCA, stroller tours are a “safe place,” said Baill. These tours offer adults the opportunity to meet and talk with other adults about contemporary art. Guides design the tours to be accomondating to parents who may need to pause to tend to their children. In other words there is no need to worry if your baby starts to fuss—you are in understanding company. 

If families want to have a less structured event or tour, there are a lot of ways to go at your own pace. Self-guided tours, scavenger hunts and audio tours are a great way to let your family explore at the pace that’s right for them. The Family Room at the Art Institute’s Ryan Education Center offers “mini-tour” maps that will lead your family throughout the building. The Education Center is also the site of changing exhibitions geared for children and teens, offering a unique perspective on the museum’s collections.

This summer the MCA will offer maps of the museum designed by a local artist. Available at the front desk, the maps are interactive guides. Some of the galleries are shown empty, and guests are encouraged to draw and populate the spaces with art, people, or whatever their imagination desires. Without outlines or instructions it’s a sort of “uncoloring” book.

And what about kicking back and relaxing? There are ways to do that too. The MCA’s Tuesdays on the Terrace, a weekly summer favorite for many adults, is also a great family activity. Every Tuesday evening, the museum hosts a jazz concert on the back patio. Families can set up picnics on the lawn, alongside Sol LeWitt’s grass installation, and listen to music and socialize. The event is free, and food is available for purchase at Puck’s Café just inside the museum. These events are attended by guests of all ages, making for a very welcoming and relaxed environment. Sit in the grass and enjoy the music, sculpture and the city in its best time of year. 

Other exciting events include the MCA’s Word Play event (July 26) recommended for those from nine to 90 years old, and the Chicago History Museum’s monthly trolley tours. Geared towards families with children in kindergarten through sixth grade, the tours visit unique sites around the city, each exploring a different theme, such as sports or Chicago’s waterways. 

So, whether you are caring for an infant or bringing the entire extended family out for the day, there are numerous ways to enjoy Chicago’s magnificent art. At the end of the day, what all of these events and programs create is a space to be engaged and inspired and to bring the family closer together.

For complete information about all of these events and more, please visit the Museum websites.