Just Giving it Away: Part 4

This is the final part of a series of posts in response to Matthew Malady’s “El Cheapo Guide To Culture” on Slate.com. Go here for the first, second, and third part of the series.

Go back to school: This is actually a surprisingly excellent tip. Many universities offer free recital series and student concerts are almost always free. But hoping not to get “carded” as it were is treading on moral quicksand. Many events are funded by student fees and sneaking in is cagey.

I’ve already mentioned taking a class. If a college class is too money or time constraining, look at what community organizations offer. UMKC has Communiversity, a program that has numerous one-off courses in every field imaginable for very reasonable prices. Or join a reading group and discuss literature free of charge. The library is currently hosting a Big Read with many activities relating to Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer.

Don’t be too picky: Most of the activities I’ve listed offer the highest caliber performance for next to (or in some cases) nothing. The artists’ fees and production costs are covered by donors, sponsors, or grants and are presented at no cost to the audience. For some events you need to register ahead of time but that shouldn’t stop you from attending.

As far as being picky, instead think of expanding your horizons. The Electronic Music Midwest festival is this weekend at Kansa City Kansas Community College. Maybe you don’t think of new music being your cup of tea? Well, the festival is three days with nine concerts and over a hundred different works performed by 65 composers both local and international. With the much variety, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Busy during the evenings? There are also free lunch-time series – Bach’s Lunch Series at UMKC and KU, the Ruel Joyce and Jazz Series at JCCC, and the Westport Center for the Arts Brown Bag Concerts – each offering a variety of groups and musical styles.

Don’t overlook the obvious: Yes, the Internet offers numerous coupons, but it’s also an endless source of information. Nowadays, almost everything is listed, every organization has a website, and they all want to publicize their events.

And I’ll add a final step: Always be on the lookout: Scan flyers, road signs, newspaper stories, word-of-mouth, and just be out-and-about. There was a huge turnout for the free open house of the Bolender Center for Dance & Creativity and the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. But the sometimes just asking for a private tour works, too. You can tour the brand new, state-of-the-art performance hall in Carmel, IN with a guide as long as you make a reservation.

Driving around you can see brown road signs that mark historic sites. Follow the arrows and for a meager sum you can have a guided tour of such a place as the Thomas Hart Benton House and Studio ($4 for an adult – children, students, and seniors are even cheaper), part of the Missouri State Park system.

The Money Museum, located in the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, is – surprisingly – free. Located nearby is one of my favorite places, the Penn Valley Dog Park. And the views of the city skyline from the Liberty Memorial are beautiful.

And revel in life’s little surprises. The organizers of a 5K in Kansas hired a be-suited jazz trio to play at the race’s half-way point, greeting the runners at the crest of a hill in the middle of nowhere. On a whim, I attended a performance of Buster Keaton’s The General with a newly-improvised score, not having any idea what to expect. It was hilarious.

All it takes is a little bit of planning and a dash of serendipity. Not only will you never spend an evening at home, you won’t spend a boatload of cash, either.

This completes my series in response to Matthew Malady’s “El Cheapo Guide to Culture.” Thanks for reading! Get off the computer now and go enjoy life.

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