They’re giving away free culture by the pallet-load down at your friendly neighborhood art organization. With a few exceptions—the Albright-Knox and Burchfield Penney come to mind—most local galleries and museums tend to be free to the general public anyway, but exhibition openings (also known as artist receptions) sweeten the deal with a few extra perks like hors d’oeuvres and artist talks. These no-cost, come-as-you-are parties usually take place on the evening before a new show officially opens. Many people think there’s some sort of catch here. You have to know something about art, right? You need an invitation, don’t you? Or maybe you’re expected to donate money or buy something? No, no, and no. Sometimes wine is served gratis, other times wine, beer, and pop can be purchased at reasonable prices. Of course galleries appreciate it when you drop a couple of bucks in the donation box (and becoming a member is a great way to support them), but it’s not required or expected. Some openings are so crowded that the art is hard to see. People go to hang out, mingle, and talk.
WNY is blessed with venues offering a vast range of work. Not-for-profit galleries such as Hallwalls (341 Delaware Ave., www.hallwalls.org), CEPA (617 Main St., www.cepagallery.org), WNY Book Arts (468 Washington, wnybookarts.org), and Big Orbit (30 D Essex St., www.bigorbit.org), exhibit exceptional new and experimental art. North of the city there’s the Castellani Art Museum (Niagara University, www.castellaniartmuseum.org), the Carnegie Art Gallery (240 Goundry St., North Tonawanda; www.carnegieartcenter.org), and the Kenan Center (433 Locust St., Lockport; www.kenancenter.org). The UB Gallery and UB Anderson Gallery are both run by the University of Buffalo (www.ubartgalleries.org), and other local colleges also have galleries. Squeaky Wheel (712 Main St., www.squeaky.org) is a media center that offers many free or inexpensive events and workshops. The Burchfield Penney (1300 Elmwood Ave., www.burchfieldpenney.org) hosts a semiregular Rendez-Blue series of visual and media art, concerts, and lectures built around a particular theme. All are listed in our own calendar, both in print and online, and in the Buffalo News’ Friday Gusto and Artvoice. (Need we mention the latter is free?)
Then there’s First Friday (www.allentown.org). Taking place from 6 to 9 p.m. on the first Friday of every month, this gallery hop-a-thon was initiated by a host of venues on and near Allen Street a few years back, and it’s morphed into one of the best free monthly sociocultural events the city has to offer. Each month (all year in all weather) hundreds of people stroll from gallery to gallery, sipping wine, nibbling cheese and other goodies, and, oh yes, looking at art. (Don’t hesitate to buy a work if the urge strikes you.) It’s fun. It’s free. It’s a cheap night out for cash-strapped couples. The Albright-Knox (1285 Elmwood Ave., www.albrightknox.org) has even joined the festivities (or rejoined them, since they more or less started the whole phenomenon with their now-defunct “Gusto at the Gallery” weekly events); their current version is called M&T First Friday @ the Gallery. From 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. once a month, museum admission is free, and there are a variety of free performances, movies, demonstrations, and assorted other offerings to sample.