The Franke Reading Room is currently open for onsite, in-person research, but please note that access is available by advance appointment only; walk-in appointments are not possible. Find additional information about our new policies and procedures here.
For questions related to all Art Institute archival collections—including the Institutional Archives, Imaging Archive and Ryerson and Burnham Art and Architecture Archive—please complete and submit our Contact and Application for Access form.
Many questions related to works of art in the museum’s curatorial collections, Art Institute exhibitions and the history of the Art Institute or the School of the Art Institute may be answered using the information provided in our Research Guides, exhibition archive, annual reports, or press release archive. Questions about the museum’s curatorial collections can be sent to email@example.com. General art history inquiries may be directed to the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries’ reference desk at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other resources—such as how to research a work of art, uncover the history of a Chicago building, locate art market prices or a professional appraiser, or find information on works exhibited at the Paris salons—are also available in our Research Guides.
What is the Research Center?
The Art Institute’s Research Center, founded July of 2020, brings together the divisions of Academic Engagement and Research, the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries, and the Art Institute of Chicago Archives to expand access to the museum’s rich educational and research offerings.
What is the Art Institute of Chicago Archives?
The Art Institute of Chicago Archives is the official archival repository for the Art Institute of Chicago. We provide a foundation for institutional memory by collecting, organizing, and preserving unique materials of enduring historical value created by and about the museum and School, as well as art, architecture, and design resources that complement and extend the museum’s curatorial collections. Most importantly, we offer and encourage access to our collections to support the work of the museum, the research needs of its staff, users and community, and to advance the reputation of the Art Institute for high-quality scholarship.
What is in the Archives?
The Archives comprises four primary collections or categories of service, including: the Institutional Archives, the Imaging Archive, the Ryerson and Burnham Art and Architecture Archive, and the museum’s digital preservation and records management program.
The Institutional Archives collects and preserves over 13,000 linear feet of records created or received by AIC/SAIC in the course of its everyday operations, including: museum records, School records, affiliated organizations, and personal papers. The Imaging Archive—also an institutional collection—contains approximately 300,000 negatives, slides, and photographic prints as well as several hundred thousand digital files, all of which document the history of the museum, its collections, exhibitions, and events. Our digital preservation and records management programs help ensure that important documents created today will be accessible to staff and researchers long into the future.
The Ryerson and Burnham Art and Architecture Archive (RBA) consists of roughly 5,000 linear feet distributed over 250 collections. Its primary mission is to gather, preserve, and make accessible research materials which enhance the scope of the libraries’ existing collections; that are pertinent to the research and preparation of Art Institute exhibitions and publications; and/or which complement, support, or create context for objects acquired by curatorial departments within the museum. The collections of the RBA are diverse, though predominantly focused on documenting the development of art and architecture in Chicago and the Midwest from the 1870s to the present. The built environment is documented through the papers of architects, urban planners, landscape architects, engineers, and industrial designers. The role of art in the Midwest is documented through the papers of artists, photographers, educators, arts organizations, and galleries. Thematic groupings of the collections can be browsed here.
What is an “archival collection”?
Within the context of the Ryerson and Burnham Art and Architecture Archive, the term “archival collection” refers to any group of related documentation that has been collected and identified as a distinct administrative entity. Each archival collection is identified by both a name and an accession number (i.e., call number). These collections typically include a mix of primary (e.g., letters, manuscripts) and secondary (e.g., magazine articles, criticism) source materials. Institutional records are more typically organized according to department of origin, though “personal papers,” such as those donated by former staff or directors, will be grouped by creator.
What is a “finding aid”?
Finding aids are inventories or indices that describe the contents and context of an archival collection. Finding aids are the primary method of accessing information about any given collection. Please note that, because some archival collections are very large, finding aids do not necessarily describe every item or object within each collection. Therefore, description may only be offered at the folder level (e.g., “letters, 1940”).
We currently have publicly-accessible finding aids for the Ryerson and Burnham Art and Architecture Archive collections only. Please review this page for more information on the Institutional and Imaging Archive.
Are there relationships between the museum’s curatorial and Archival collections?
The Institutional and Imaging Archive document many core aspects of the museum, including the curatorial collection. Please contact email@example.com for more information on related holdings.
Many collections in the Ryerson and Burnham Art and Architecture Archive (RBA) are associated with works of art held in the museum’s curatorial collections. This is especially true with regard to the Department of Architecture and Design (A&D). However, other collections do not and reflect, instead, our efforts to document the development of art and architecture in Chicago and the Midwest from the 1870s to the present.
Broadly speaking, the A&D curatorial collection contains drawings, models, and 3-D materials, such as building fragments, while the RBA archival collections contain mostly papers, photos, and project documents. The RBA also collects some drawings, models, and 3-D materials, though to a lesser extent. Because many collections are split between the two departments, it may be necessary to contact both in order to find all relevant materials. Selections of A&D’s collection can be searched online here and their staff can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What formats do you have? Do you have video or audio in your collection?
Our collections include a wide variety of physical formats including: photographs, slides, drawings, letters, manuscripts, printed materials (e.g., newspapers, magazines, brochures), scrapbooks, ephemera, memorabilia, posters, postcards, and maps. We also have a wide variety of audio and video formats (e.g., cassettes, VHS tapes, 16mm film, phonograph records) as well as born digital materials (e.g., Word documents, PDFs, etc.).
Can I see all of these materials online?
Portions of the Ryerson and Burnham Art and Architecture Archive collection are digitized and available for online viewing. However, given size and copyright considerations, it is impractical to digitize everything. Some small collections have been scanned in their entirety, while for other collections, only the most commonly requested items—such as photographs, drawings, and other visual materials—are available online. This information is also noted in the introduction to each finding aid. A list of digitized collections is available here.
A selection of exhibition images from the Institutional and Imaging archives is available in our exhibition archive. Some additional institutional records, such as annual reports and press releases are also available for review. However, the majority of our institutional records are not available for remote access.
Where can I submit a comment or correction to something I saw online?
All comments and correction requests can be submitted using our Contact and Application for Access form.
Does the Archives accept donations?
Yes, the Art Institute of Chicago Archives does accept donations that fall within the scope of our mission and/or current collection policy. Please contact us through our Contact and Application for Access form with information on your donation.
Can I come in and see these materials in person?
The Franke Reading Room is currently open for onsite, in-person research, but please note that access is available by advance appointment only; walk-in appointments are not possible.
Find additional information about our access guidelines, procedures and remote services here and below.
The Archives strives to make its collections available for research to the fullest extent possible; all access requests adhere to legal requirements and ethical access considerations, including public statutes, donor contracts, privacy requirements, and the proprietary rights of the museum.
These guidelines and procedures apply to all records under the purview of the AIC Archives regardless of format, location, processing status, or provenance.
The Art Institute of Chicago Archives welcomes researchers to make use of our collections. Library and archival collections are available by appointment only; walk-in requests are not possible.
General inquiries should be directed to email@example.com. All media and press requests should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org. All inquiries into the museum’s Institutional Archives—for both remote and onsite service—should be submitted via the Application for Access to Institutional Records form.
Researchers seeking access to other archival collections—and those approved for access to the Institutional Archives—must submit the Archives Appointment Request form at least one week in advance of their desired visit.
- Museum visitors of high-school age and above may consult the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago Archives by appointment. Younger researchers should contact email@example.com to inquire about access in advance of their visit.
- Depending on the nature of the request and the availability of materials, requested appointments may be canceled or rescheduled according to staff discretion.
- Archival research appointments for the public are available Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays from 1:30-5 PM.
- Reading room capacity is currently limited to twelve (12) researchers per session. Research appointments are scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis and will be confirmed via email by Research Center staff.
- Appointments take place at the Research Center’s Franke Reading Room, a shared space in which researchers can consult the collections of the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries and the Art Institute of Chicago Archives. The Franke Reading Room is located just south of the Grand Staircase inside the Michigan Avenue entrance to the museum.
- Researchers must complete a pre-registration process and submit their request for materials one week prior to arrival onsite. Information regarding this process will be provided to researchers along with their appointment confirmation. If these steps are not completed one week in advance of the requested date and time, appointments will be canceled.
- The Archives welcomes all qualified users and is committed to making its services accessible to everyone. Persons with disabilities who would like to request an accessibility accommodation for an Art Institute visit are encouraged to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org as far in advance as possible. Learn more about accessibility accommodations.
- Researchers agree to follow the museum’s visiting terms and conditions in addition to established reading room policies.
- Researchers agree to indemnify and hold harmless the Art Institute of Chicago and its officers and employees from and against all claims and actions arising out of the researcher’s use of any AIC collections.
- Learn more about our onsite, public research appointments in the Franke Reading Room.
- Learn more about appointment availability and procedures for museum staff and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago community.
Assessing Access Requests
Archives staff will assess each research request, granting access in its sole discretion contingent upon several factors, including:
- Purpose of the request
- Relevance of the request to the museum’s mission
- Condition of the requested collections
- Accessibility of materials
- Staff capacity
- Privacy and confidentiality concerns
In determining access, the Archives will also consider a researcher’s “need to know.” Serious scholarly inquiries are typically granted some degree of access.
In certain cases of limited access, when capacity allows, the Archives may use restricted files to answer questions for researchers, extracting the pertinent but unrestricted information. Access to certain materials that are fragile or have high intrinsic value may be limited, and the examination of such materials will be supervised. In addition, the quantity of material requested for examination may be limited due to workspace constraints. Access denials may be appealed via our Contact and Application for Access form.
The Art Institute reserves the right to deny access to any researcher, including any researcher who has previously violated our policies or regulations.
With few exceptions, the collections of the Ryerson and Burnham Art and Architecture Archives are unrestricted and available to all users. The museum’s Institutional Archives are largely restricted to external users, though limited access may be granted by request.
Guided by institutional policy, legal requirements, and established professional best practices, the Archives reserves the right to restrict access to any materials, including, for example, sensitive or confidential materials, records which could impair or compromise key functions or relationships within the institution, or anything that would compromise the museum’s security or operations.
Documents that are restricted from public access include:
- Board of Trustees records
- Director’s files
- Personnel files
- Financial information, including purchase records
- Legal records, including records related to contracts, and negotiations
- Donor and lender information
- Fundraising and development records
- Insurance and appraisal records, including insurance values
- Conservation and condition reports
- Architectural and engineering drawings of museum campus
- Curatorial records
- SAIC student records
- Unprocessed collections
Disputes regarding restricted materials are settled in consultation with the Director of Archives, Executive Director of the Research Center, the Deputy Director and Senior Vice President for Curatorial Affairs, and/or the museum’s General Counsel.
Records in the Archives sometimes contain Personally Identifying Information (PII). Records deemed to have high research value which contain certain types of PII will be restricted with limited access at the discretion of the Archives staff, or a copy will be made available with the PII redacted. Publicly-available PII is generally not restricted.
Materials may also be restricted due to format, condition, or donor-requested stipulations.
Reproduction and publication requests will be assessed using the same policy employed for access in addition to other applicable concerns related to reproduction. Some documents made available for viewing may not be approved for reproduction or publication.
- Visitors to the Ryerson and Burnham Art and Architecture Archive’s Archival Images & Media database may download study images with a maximum dimension of 1000 pixels using the “Download” button found in the upper right quadrant of all database object pages. Larger, high-resolution versions of images and/or new photography may be requested through this order page.
- A variety of photoduplication options are available to researchers both remotely and in the reading room.
- Publication requests must be submitted a minimum of two months in advance of delivery deadline.
- All reproduction requests must be approved by the Director of Archives or the Institutional Archivist.
- If approved, licensing of Art Institute of Chicago institutional records must then be requested through our Image Licensing site. Please contact Archives staff with any questions.
- Please note that works of art, text, and other content appearing in reproductions may be protected by copyright or related interests that are not owned by the museum. It is the researcher’s responsibility to obtain whatever copyright or other permissions may be required from an artist, the artist’s agent or estate, or any other third party rights holder. By accepting or using any reproductions, the researcher agrees to indemnify the museum and hold it harmless against any and all claims, demands, and/or actions of any nature, including the expenses thereof, arising as a result of the use of the reproductions.
- Documents from the museum’s Institutional Archives should be cited as: “Courtesy, Institutional Archives, The Art Institute of Chicago.” Captions must be approved by Archives staff prior to publication. Citations for materials from other archival collections should be requested via our Contact and Application for Access form
- The Archives reserves the right to decline reproduction and publication requests if, in its judgment, fulfillment of the order would cause damage to the material or involve violation of copyright law.
For image rights and reproductions of works of art from the museum’s curatorial collections, please review this information on imaging licensing and contact Art Resource accordingly. The Archives does not manage such requests and cannot provide information or guidance regarding any such inquiries.
Please contact the Archives via our Contact and Application for Access form for more information.
Can you help me research an architect, building, or work of art?
We’re happy to help answer simple questions about architecture and the arts in Chicago and the Midwest though we are limited in the amount of time we can spend per question. For more in-depth inquiries we may only be able to provide you with potential research sources. Out of town researchers may wish to hire a freelance researcher; a list is available here. Broad questions about non-local art and architecture topics, auction results or a work of art you wish to identify can be sent to the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries reference staff at email@example.com.
Can you help me find information on an Art Institute exhibit or SAIC alum?
Questions about the history of the museum and the School of the Art Institute can be directed to the Institutional Archives via our Contact and Application for Access form. More information, including digitized exhibition catalogues, may be found here.
Can you tell me how much my artwork is worth?
Research Center staff cannot evaluate or appraise works of art. However, the libraries do subscribe to a number of art price indexes and other databases that search auction results. Please email reference staff at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Information on how to locate art appraisers in the Chicago area is available here.
Does the Archives lend original documents for research purposes?
No. The Research Center’s collections, including the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries and the Art Institute of Chicago Archives, are non-circulating. The Ryerson and Burnham Libraries is a member of SHARES, the Research Libraries Group Shared Resources Service, and some library materials may be lent through interlibrary loan to other SHARES institutions. The Archives does not participate in any interlibrary loan services.
Does the Archives lend original documents for exhibitions?
Yes, original documents or artifacts may be loaned to qualified institutions for exhibition when the purpose of loan is consistent with the mission of the Research Center and the Art Institute of Chicago. Borrowers should submit a written request a minimum of 12 (twelve) months in advance of the exhibition opening. Loan approval will be subject to security, fire protection, environmental, and transport requirements and will require a facility report and light exposure questionnaire to be completed for consideration.
Where else can I find Chicago art and architecture research materials?
Local and regional institutions holding complementary collections include:
The Chicago Collections Consortium also maintains a searchable list of regional archives and special collections.