Engage All of Your Senses at Color Factory Chicago

By:
fallPlaces to Gospringsummerwinter

Opening today, Color Factory Chicago turns 25,000 square feet in the Willis Tower’s basement into a shockingly vibrant world of color, experienced through every sense. Traipse through installations by local artists, pluck candy-colored macarons from a rotating conveyor belt, toss handfuls of Chicago-flag-colored confetti through the air, slide (or jump or swim) through a giant, monochromatic ball pit filled with 200,000+ serenely mint-green balls, and more. There are goodies galore, plus an ingenious solution to keeping your phone out of your hand while still letting you get great photos.

Color Factory provided us with free early access to the museum. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Sound and color play nice in this exhibit by artist Yuri Suzuki.

The museum invited Kidlist in for a sneak preview, so I took my kids (6 and 4) downtown to check it out. We went with our guest photographer, Stacey, and her teenage daughter, Kaitlynn, which was a good test since the museum is designed for all ages. We set out to not only enjoy the museum, but also get tips for families traveling from the summer, learn more about accessibility options, and find out what to consider if you’re wondering whether tickets are worth it.

What is Color Factory?

Color Factory is an interactive museum that inspires visitors with an exploration of color. Elements of sight, taste, touch, sound, and smell engage each sense and challenge visitors to think about color, its association, and our experiences in new ways.

This is Color Factory’s fourth exhibit (one temporary and two permanent), but it’s no carbon copy of the other installations. The team partnered extensively with Chicago-based artists, organizations, and eateries, and it really shows in thoughtful details that speak to the spirit of the city. My personal favorite touches were local treats like Kurima Chicago melona melon ice cream, the confetti-strewn Chicago flag room where you could lay on a giant and have a photo taken from above, and a wonderfully playful poetry exhibit with giant floating balloons that integrated poetry by 826CHI students.

What to Expect

You’ll travel through the museum along a set path, experiencing the exhibits one after another. You can linger in spots that interest you (or your kids) at your own pace. Every room is interactive and ready to explore!

One smart feature? At the start of the museum, you can scan a small square with a QR code, then input your email address. There are tons of photo stations located throughout the museum; you just hold up your QR code to scan, and then it counts down to take a few snapshots in creatively-chosen locations. The idea recognizes the importance of photos for cherished memories, while also freeing up your hands from constantly snapping phone pics. I think parents of young children in particular will really appreciate it! The photos are emailed to you completely free right after the event, though you can also buy hard copies in the gift shop.

There are more than a few spots to enjoy sweet treats, all of which are included with your ticket: macarons, rice krispie-style treats, packets of popping candy for a guessing game, a colorful drink, and a small scoop of ice cream. Portions are small and the macarons and rice krispies are wrapped if you’d like to save them for later; allergy information is also listed at each stop.

My guide estimated that most people will take an hour and a half to explore the museum, which felt about right to me.

If you’re coming with kids, expect the star of the show to be the enormous ball pit. If you’re not coming with kids… same, honestly. It’s really cool. It’s one of the last couple exhibits, so factor that into your planning.

Just be aware that there are cubbies at the entrance where you’ll need to leave your shoes. (I didn’t notice them, and therefore two minutes after my six-year-old squealed and plunged right in, he happily announced “I can’t find my shoes!” Whoops. And thanks to the workers who went diving for them.)

When is the best time to go?

When I asked my guide this question, he told me they don’t really know yet, since the museum hadn’t opened yet. However, he predicted that weekdays during the workday will end up being the least-busy times. (This is also an ideal time to take the train into the city, as you’re more likely to catch an express train and have plenty of options for getting home when you want.)

My kids loved this giant maze designed by artist Camille Walala.

The museum does cap admissions with the goal of avoiding overcrowded exhibits.

Keep in mind that we previewed the museum before its opening day, so while we got to wave to workers putting on finishing paint touches and taking a break to frolic in the ball pit, we didn’t get a great feel for how it would be with other visitors in the space.

Getting There

A mere two blocks from Union Station, and not much farther from Ogilvie, this is really the perfect destination for a train trip into Chicago. Download the Ventra app ahead of time and purchase your tickets (or ticket, in my case, as kids 7 and under ride free), and see fare information for pricing.

You’ll want to enter off Jackson Boulevard and follow the signs for Catalog at Willis Tower. Skydeck signage is also helpful, as Color Factory is right next door to the entrance for Skydeck tours.

Food Nearby

This is downtown Chicago, so there are food options galore! The easiest option would probably be to eat in the food court when you walk into the Willis Tower entrance off Jackson Boulevard (follow signs for Skydeck). The exhibit is on the second lower level, so you can just take the escalator or elevator down the next two floors, and it’s very close and convenient. Just remember that your trip includes quite a few sweets, so you may not want to make the mistake I did of grabbing donuts on the way in.

(Just kidding. I could never regret donuts.)

Bathrooms

There are individual and family bathrooms on the first lower level, right below the food court, as well as drinking fountains to refill water bottles.

Accessibility

The exhibit is wheelchair-friendly, and even the ball pit features ramps down into the balls! Strollers are allowed in, but I would avoid it if at all possible. There is a stroller check available.

Best Ages

The museum is definitely a destination that will appeal to both adults visiting alone and those bringing kids alike. Everyone at the museum encouraged my kids to jump in, touch, and play, even though there were a few spots where I felt a bit nervous (like when they started bouncing the giant poetry balloons across the room).

I suspect not all exhibits will appeal to all ages in the same way. For example, at one station you put on headphones and are guided through the process of drawing the person across from you; my six-year-old was delighted, while my four-year-old seemed more baffled. Meanwhile, my kids spent more time dancing around in the endless mirrors and giggling uproariously than your average adult might. Anyone who loves selfies will probably stop at all the photo ops (and there are a ton), while we breezed past all but a few.

Tickets

Reserve tickets online in advance. Admission is capped to help prevent overcrowding. For all the dates I checked, admission was $38 for ages 13+, $28 for ages 3–12, and free for ages 2 and under. The website also sells gift cards.

The tickets include treats and take-home goodies throughout the museum, which I really enjoyed, since I’m usually pretty hesitant to add extras when we’re already putting down so much money for tickets. It was a relief to not have to tell my kids ‘no’ about these things… though of course, you do still exit through the gift shop.

Want to explore more immersive experiences? Check out our guide to New Exhibits and Immersive Experiences for all sorts of unique fun around Chicagoland.

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