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Free Culture

Fifteen interesting places to go in the Boston area without spending a penny

Most BU students know that the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) offers them complimentary tickets to its world-renowned art collection, but in fact, for a culture-seeker with a limited (or nonexistent) budget, the MFA is just the beginning.

The Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) welcomes visitors who want to laugh at awkward shapes, inaccurate perspectives, and generally wrong-headed artwork. Included in the collection are Dog, the painting of a yellow-eyed pup that morphs into a snowy mountain, and Suicide, a painting discovered in a trashcan, both by unknown artists.

For those who like a hands-on approach to art, the 28th annual Cambridge River Festival, whose theme this year is Twist and Shout, brings music, dance, poetry, visual art, handmade arts and crafts, and more into the public domain on Saturday, June 16. The festival, hosted by the Cambridge Arts Council, is being held at Riverbend Park on Memorial Drive from noon to 6 p.m. 
The Boston area also offers a range of historical museums, such as the National Heritage Museum, in Lexington. Its current exhibition, Teenage Hoboes in the Great Depression, displays photographs, books, letters, and oral histories that explain that 20th-century decade of struggle from a unique perspective.

Museums and exhibitions in the Boston area that are free to students include:

Rubin-Frankel Gallery at BU Hillel House
Right on the BU campus, the Jewish Women Artists Network is showing its national juried exhibition, Words Within, a discussion of Jewish themes via paintings, print, sculpture, and mixed-media work, through June 29.

Photographic Resource Center at Boston University
The contemporary gallery is hosting EXPOSURE: The Annual PRC Juried Exhibition, which displays the works of 16 photographers juried by New York City gallery owner Jen Bekman. The exhibition is on display through July 1.

Harvard University Art Museums
Students with a BU I.D. are able to view at no charge an array of art, from ancient to modern, in the collections of three of the world’s leading art museums.

Boston College’s McMullen Museum of Art
The collection here contains art ranging from 16th-century Flemish tapestries and Italian paintings to modern American paintings up to 1940. The McMullen’s current exhibition, A New Key: Modern Belgian Art from the Simon Collection, is “the finest collection of modern Belgian art outside Belgium,” according to the museum Web site.

MIT List Visual Arts Center

The gallery expands the traditional aesthetic focus of art into the realm of social, cultural, scientific, and economic contexts with its collection of “challenging, intellectually inquisitive, contemporary” art in all media.

MIT Museum’s Compton Gallery
Currently being exhibited at the museum is The Heart of MIT: Twenty Years of Photography by Donna Coveney, which displays the school’s unique culture through the work of photojournalist Coveney.

MIT Museum’s Hart Nautical Gallery
Since 1924, the gallery has displayed ship models and examples of ocean-engineering technology created by MIT affiliates.

Longyear Museum

The Longyear Museum contains the photographs, letters, and artifacts of Mary Baker Eddy, the 19th-century founder of the Christian Science Church.

Boston African American National Historic Site
A visit to the African Meeting House and a walk along the Black Heritage Trail, with four sites open to the public, provides a history of Boston’s 19th-century free black community.

Minute Man National Historical Park

Minute Man National Historical Park offers many free programs that explore the opening battle of the American Revolution, “the shot heard round the world,” on April 19, 1775.

The New England Holocaust Memorial
Survivors of the Nazi concentration camps, joined by individuals and organizations from across the community, created this memorial, located along the Freedom Trail, to “foster memory of and reflection on one of the great tragedies of our time,” according to the memorial’s Web site. 

Boston Public Library, Copley Square
More than 50 programs take place each week at the BPL, including scheduled art and architecture tours of the Copley Square buildings, author talks, and exhibitions. The Extravagant Ambassador: Alexandre Vattemare, The French Ventriloquist Who Changed the World opens on Saturday, June 16. The exhibition showcases the artifacts of one of the founders of the BPL, who began a nationwide public library movement.

A wide range of art is displayed also in numerous Boston-area art galleries.

Rebecca McNamara can be reached at ramc@bu.edu.