As the only museum in the Midwestern United States that is dedicated to photography, this free museum is an excellent choice for those who are visiting Chicago and have a free hour or two to enjoy. A nice break from some of the busier tourist attractions, the Museum of Contemporary Photography is a small but established museum with its own collection of photography as well as rotating exhibits.
As successor to the Chicago Center for Contemporary Photography, the museum was officially established in 1976 and began collecting in the early 1980s. In the last 30+ years, the museum’s collection has grown into more than 15,000 objects from over 1500 artists, such as Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Graciela Iturbide, and Irving Penn among hundreds of others.
The mission of the Museum of Contemporary Photography is to create opportunities and promote dialogue among artists, students and diverse communities while cultivating understanding of the importance of photography in various aspects of life. With this in mind, the museum’s collection is constantly growing and changing to include pieces of digital photography, gelatin-silver prints, photograms, color work, and other object related to photography.
Not to Miss at the Museum of Contemporary Photography
Exhibitions change regularly, making it difficult to recommend particular pieces to see. However, the best way to get the inside scoop on the current exhibition is through a pre-arranged tour. Docent-led tours can be arranged for visiting groups or classes without any charge. In these groups, members of staff will guide visitors (up to 30 people) through discussions related to the current exhibition. Schedule at least two weeks in advance for visits Monday through Friday from 10am to 4:30pm and Thursdays until 7:30pm.
Museum of Contemporary Photography Amenities
The Museum of Contemporary Photography is a small, no-frills place with minimal amenities. Anyone with a disability is welcomed, but no targeted programs exist to accommodate disabled persons.
NEARBY ATTRACTIONS: Grant Park
Since you’ll be in the area, don’t miss Grant Park—especially if the weather is good! Just a 5-7-minute walk from the museum, take a wander through “Chicago’s Front Yard” with more than 300 acres of park grounds. Check out Buckingham Fountain, the bronze warrior statues in Congress Plaza on the west side, or enjoy a walk/cycle along the 18-mile Lakefront Trail.
Getting There to the Museum of Contemporary Photography
The Museum of Contemporary Photography is at Columbia College, 600 S Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60605. Conveniently located downtown, the museum can be accessed by car, public transportation or bicycle.
Since you’re not likely to stay at the museum all day, street parking nearby Columbia College may be your best bet—if you can find a spot.
Nearby parking garages include:
- Peoples Auto Parking with entrances on East Harrison and South Wabash
- Loop Auto Parks at 524 South Wabash Avenue
- One Place Garage at 1 East 8th Street
CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) offers access to the museum with nearby “L” train stops on the Brown, Green and Red Lines, as well as several busses that stop in the area.
Bike racks are located around the Columbia College campus. The Lakefront Trail to the Museum Campus interchange and then to Michigan Avenue and 11th Street is an effective route to get to the Columbia College campus. Wabash Avenue and Dearborn Street also have marked bike lanes.
Divvy, Chicago’s bike sharing program, has several automated bike rental stations conveniently located around the Columbia College campus.
When to Go to the Museum of Contemporary Photography
Open Mon-Sat from 10am-5pm and Sunday from 12noon to 5pm. Thursdays have extended hours until 8pm.
Visits on weekday mornings are less likely to be busy, so that’s a good time to go. Because the building is small and some artwork is shown in main corridors, it is certainly wise to plan your visit around a time that will be less crowded.
Important: as part of Columbia College, the museum is closed when the college is closed. This includes all major holidays. It is also closed between exhibitions for installations. Make sure to check out the museum’s website prior to planning your visit.
Museum of Contemporary Photography Insider Tips
Note that not all pieces in the collection are on display to the public at all times. In order to view all of the permanent collection through a docent-led print viewing, you need to make an appointment two weeks in advance of your visit. (312) 344-7793
The museum is free to all visitors, but you may want to come prepared to give a donation to support the cause.