A tight budget doesn’t have to mean a life without art. There are some places that you can enjoy works of art absolutely for free.
- Some museums are simply free. I’ve been keeping a list.
- College and university art museums are often free to enter. (A few are not, so verify before you go.)
- Regional art museums often set aside one night a month or something like that for free or pay-what-you-wish* admission. These can be very popular, so prepare for crowds and leave lots of time to find parking.
- Some regional museums offer free admission to area residents. Some libraries also partner with nearby cultural institutions to provide free admission to library card holders. For example, a new program from the New York Public Library gives card holders free admission to places like the Guggenheim and the Whitney. This program is only available to New York State residents, but something similar may be available in your area.
- Commercial art galleries are always free to enter, since they’re essentially stores. However, some galleries may require you to make an appointment. With searching, you can find galleries showing everything from Old Masters to contemporary art, internationally-known stars to local newcomers.
- Some major art fairs, like the annual Armory Show in New York, are free to attend. (But others are not, so check ahead of time.) You can usually find these fairs advertised in large newspapers and art-related publications.
- Local arts events are great ways of seeing artists from your area. On weekends in the summer and early fall, many towns organize small fairs in outdoor public spaces. Artists usually sit in their booths and are more than happy to chat with you about their work. Groups of artists may choose to open up their working spaces to visitors on the same day or weekend in what’s called a studio tour. Sometimes, they all have their studios in the same building. Other times, they simply live in the same town and will provide a map for you to visit all of them within a short walk or drive. Look for signs in your local area. Please note that arts events usually charge an admission if they are run by a for-profit production company instead of a town or artists’ group.
- Most auction houses offer preview days before a sale. At this time, it’s usually free to walk around the auction gallery and have a look at the pieces about to go on the block. The auctions themselves are also free to observe.
- Libraries, coffee shops, performing arts centers, and even civic buildings sometimes host free-to-view art exhibitions. They’re usually made up of works by area artists.
*How to enjoy art almost absolutely for free: Quite a few prominent museums have a “suggested donation” instead of an admission price. Other museums offer “pay what you will” admission on certain nights of the week or month. In either case, your donation truly is up to you. It can be one dollar or even one penny if you want it to be. So you can pay whatever works for you. (But please don’t be stingy for the heck of it!)