Free in WNY / All are welcome: art galleries and openings

The first Fridays of every month bring not just free admission but also free classes and other programming at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Photos by kc kratt


A couple years ago, I asked a friend I knew only through Facebook if she had ever been to Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center. “No,” she said, and then asked, “Is there a charge?” That’s when I knew she had never been to an art gallery.


Galleries—as opposed to museums—have rotating exhibitions, but do not maintain a permanent art collection. There are two basic kinds: commercial and nonprofit. Unlike museums, there is no fee to view exhibitions at either kind of gallery.


It seems that many people are wary of galleries, as if entering one causes a bright red sign to appear on their forehead, reading “art world greenhorn.” Some fear making an embarrassing faux pas. At which—they imagine—everyone will turn and stare and mutter to one another, “Well, they let anyone in these days.”


Allentown First Friday: Indigo Art Gallery often features ambitious installation projects.


Fear not. In some galleries, you may even be alone; in others, there might be a gallerist (owner/curator) nearby, to whom you could say hello. That’s the extent of your obligation. There’s no dress code; casual clothing is fine. There’s no expectation that you will buy anything (though you may if you want). In some galleries, the works are identified by numbers that correspond to a title sheet, which may include prices. Look for one or ask. And ask questions about the art if you want. You won’t be tested. If you appear inexperienced, the curator will be delighted to bring a new fan into the fold. This is Buffalo; we’re friendly.


Gallery hopping can make for a pleasant afternoon (most close around 5 p.m.) with a wide range of art to view, but for real fun, attend the openings. Art openings (sometimes called receptions) usually take place on the first day of an exhibition. They are essentially public parties. There may be food to nibble. Go ahead; it’s free. Many commercial galleries serve wine, though in small amounts (if there’s a tip jar, it’s nice to put something in it). Nonprofit galleries often sell wine and beer at lower-than-bar prices. The atmosphere is different at each gallery, but none live up to the snooty affairs you see in movies.


On the first Friday of every month, many galleries have openings from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. (some later), and visitors stream from one to another. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery is also free on first Fridays, and the Burchfield Penney Art Center is free on second Fridays. Both museums offer a variety of events those evenings—music, lectures, performances—all free. Buffalo Arts Studio invites the public in on fourth Fridays. (All three of these institutional Fridays are supported by M&T Bank.)


Allentown First Friday: Pine Apple Gallery, run by an artist collective,  just opened a new location at 65 Allen.


Unfortunately, Buffalo doesn’t have a concentrated gallery district (though Allen Street has several), so you will have to do some driving. Nonprofit galleries like Hallwalls, CEPA, Big Orbit, and the WNY Book Arts Center tend to have challenging work and eclectic crowds. Pine Apple Company has art with an urban flair, Art Dialogue is more traditional, and PAUSA art house is a wine bar with art shows.


Calendars including gallery exhibitions and opening dates can be found in Spree, the Buffalo News, and The Public. Sign the guest books, or “like” gallery Facebook pages, and you will begin to get notices and invitations.   


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