Keep me, please: That’s the message the Art Institute of Chicago hopes its new tickets will send to museum visitors.
Beginning in June, guests who purchase a ticket at the museum will receive a piece of paper printed with an image from one of 10 of its famous works, including Andy Warhol’s “Liz,” Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks,” Grant Wood’s “American Gothic,” and Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Cow’s Skull with Calico Roses.”
The ticket redesign coincides with the opening of the museum’s new exhibit, “America After The Fall: Painting in the 1930s,” which opens June 5 and closes Sept. 18.
David Thurm, the museum’s chief operating officer, got the idea to spruce up the tickets this winter, while visiting the Prado museum in Madrid, Spain. “I thought, ‘what a beautiful ticket, why don’t we do something like this?’ ”
The museum’s legal department reviewed the ticket and decided that most of the legal information on it wasn’t necessary; removing it freed up space for the artwork.
Now, the ticket previews what guests will see, and invites them to follow the museum on social media. “We take it for granted that (we know) ‘American Gothic’ is here, but not everyone does,” Thurm says.
The museum spent $2,000 to switch ticket printing to four color from black and white, and also worked with various entities, for instance the Warhol Foundation, to secure rights to reproduce the works. The art will also appear on print-at-home tickets.
Even as the world moves to mobile and print-at-home tickets, the ticket isn’t losing its cachet, says Doug Lyon, an independent ticket-industry consultant based in Las Vegas.
“The ticket is no longer just the way you get in—it’s part of the experience,” he says.
A keepsake, commemorative ticket makes sense, even more so if it’s personalized, Lyon says, adding that some of his clients are allowing guests to print selfies on tickets, or choose the artwork on their print at home ticket.
The Art Institute gets about 1.5 million visitors a year—this year, probably 1.7 million, due to the popular “Van Gogh’s Bedrooms” exhibit, which closed May 10. Thurm says half the visitors are paying guests, about a quarter are members, and a quarter enter because of a free program.
The new tickets are part of an overall effort to enhance the experience at the museum. Staff and volunteers now stay 30 minutes past closing time, in order to answer visitors’ questions about restaurants and other tourist attractions. Signs in the lobby say “Can We Answer Any Question?” and also point visitors to nearby restaurants.
The museum has also changed the way it informs guests of closing time. Rather than begin to shoo guests out the door at 4:45, at 4:30, guards say, “we are closing in a half hour, can we show you anything else?” Thurm says.
Signage has changed, too, to appeal to the general public. Timelines and photos of representative works give guests a taste of what they’ll encounter in each gallery. “If we can show you a picture, you might not know it’s Picasso or Richter, but it gives you a feel for what you’ll experience,” Thurm says.