Pssst. Know any way a Chicago family can get free transportation to and from 10 of the city’s coolest museums, as well as free admission and free yearlong family passes?
We do. It’s the Chicago Park District’s Park Voyagers program and it’s one of the best-kept family activity secrets in the city.
It started as an afterschool program in 1998 in which museum personnel conducted educational programs at neighborhood parks. For example, someone from the Notebaert Nature Museum might describe how butterfly wings are designed to protect butterflies from predators, then ask kids to design their own butterfly wing and explain how it would ward off predators.
"But we wanted to get families invested [in the museum experience as well]," says Jacqueline Triche Atkins, executive director of Museums in the Park.
So the free program was expanded to include four phases.
• Phase 1: The afterschool program, aimed at 8- to 10-year-olds who live in the city.
• Phase 2: Family workshops at the park that include dinner and activities with museum personnel, outings to the museums and transportation from the neighborhood park. Families who complete Phase 2 are rewarded with single-use passes to each of the 10 museums.
• Phase 3: Monthly visits to one of the 10 museums, including transportation to and from the neighborhood park and special museum programming for the Park Voyager families.
• Phase 4: Families who complete Phase 3 get one-year family passes to each of the 10 museums.
"The goal of Park Voyagers is to match up our patrons with the resources of the city. To put museums in reach of patrons," says Caroline O’Boyle, director of environment, culture and special events for the Chicago Park District.
The program is paid for by grants from the Joyce Foundation, Kraft Foods, the MacArthur Foundation, the Field Foundation of Illinois, Peoples Energy, the federal government’s Institute of Museum and Library Services and the museums themselves.
Participating museums are: Adler Planetarium, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago Historical Society, DuSable Museum of African American History, Field Museum, Mexican Fine Arts Center, Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum of Science and Industry, Notebaert Nature Museum and Shedd Aquarium.
Phase 1 of the next session begins Jan. 24 at West Chatham Park, 8223 S. Princeton Ave., (312) 747-6998; Columbus Park, 500 S. Central Ave., (773) 287-7641; and Rosedale Park, 6312 W. Rosedale Ave., (773) 631-7156. Park Voyagers registration is ongoing at www.chicagoparkdistrict.com. For more information, call (312) 447-0462 or visit www.parkvoyagers.org. Merry Mayer