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Elmhurst Art Museum looks to diversify revenue, increase teen engagement

ELMHURST – The Elmhurst Art Museum recently has made changes to its programming and membership structure, and its leadership is asking for continued assistance from the community in its endeavors.

Contrary to a common misconception, the museum is a nonprofit unaffiliated with the city of Elmhurst's government or Elmhurst College, and it depends on donations, grants and memberships, said John McKinnon, executive director of the museum at 150 S. Cottage Hill Ave. in Elmhurst.

The museum is on land owned by the Elmhurst Park District, and a member of the district's Board of Commissioners serves on the museum's board. The district assists the museum by taking care of upkeep of the grounds, such as snow shoveling and taking care of nearby sidewalks, and it provides a yearly stipend to the museum for improving landscaping, he said.

However, the museum building, which is 21 years old, needs maintenance as well, McKinnon said.

"We're at a cycle where some of the things of our infrastructure need to be maintained that have been kind of – deferred is such a nice word – not maintained. .... There's signs of peeling paint, there's hardwood floors that should be refinished, things that are not major. But once all those things add up, then the costs add up, and so we will have to prioritize what we can do each year," he said.

The museum's fundraising goals include support for exhibitions, education programs, facilities and operations, and priorities include funding outward-facing programs, which donors and businesses can help fund, but support also is needed for improving infrastructure and maintaining the building, McKinnon said.

The museum issued a report June 30 reviewing statistics for January through June that suggested certain trends for the museum in comparison to past years' statistics.

"We seem to be kind of ahead of the game in terms of membership, and overall engagement seems up," he said.

McKinnon credited an increase in both overall membership and participation in higher-level memberships seen in the first half of 2018 to changes in membership offerings. The museum restructured its membership types and incentives earlier this year based on membership rates of other organizations in the area, and it raised the museum's membership rates, he said. McKinnon also defined benefits for higher-level memberships.

"Knowing that we were below and then matching our neighbors was important, and then remaining competitive after that is helpful," he said.

Attendance for the first half of 2018 appears to be "down," but he said the museum expects "a good crowd" for its fall exhibitions this year since the museum tends to have a busier spring and fall than summer.

McKinnon said the museum needs to acquire income in diverse ways – such as through memberships, attendance, grants and individual donations – as a safeguard in case a type of support falls short in a given year.

In addition to signing up for museum memberships, the Elmhurst community also can help with end-of-year donations, he said.

"It has been demonstrated to me that a lot of people are very generous at the end of the year, and as a result, it helps us in terms of our annual goals. .... Every little bit counts," McKinnon said.

Major donors also can volunteer on committees, which include a programming committee that provides feedback and helps establish community partnerships, a facilities committee that previously helped restore the McCormick House and a fundraising committee, he said.

The museum also has started a Teen Art Council, a free, weekly program in which children can work with museum professionals to learn more about art and voice their opinions on what they would like to see in the community, according to the museum's website.

McKinnon said the museum's Board of Directors and the previous museum director informed him as he began his leadership at the museum that they wanted to see an increase in teenagers' use of the museum since they believed it was an opportunity for growth for the museum and education for teenagers who may want to pursue the arts. The council started in the spring, and museum personnel invited students to join the group and asked teenagers what they wanted the group to be like.

ArchiTeenZine, a council publication, was highlighted in an event Aug. 23 at the museum. The publication was the culmination of the council's summer sessions involving discussions of architecture, McKinnon said. It includes individual council members' artistic takes on the museum's spring exhibits related to architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's work.


Know more

To learn about the Elmhurst Art Museum, including volunteering, donating, joining the Teen Art Council and becoming a museum member, visit, call 630-834-0202 or email

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