Cheap cultural activities abound in Pittsburgh

Credit: Adelaide Cole | Art Editor Credit: Adelaide Cole | Art Editor The Andy Warhol Museum often hosts special receptions and events, which are usually free to Carnegie Mellon students. (credit: File photo by Tommy Hofman) The Andy Warhol Museum often hosts special receptions and events, which are usually free to Carnegie Mellon students. (credit: File photo by Tommy Hofman)

Pittsburgh is probably best known as a “steel city” with top-notch sports teams. Gawker.com recently lauded Pittsburgh as the “true unheralded urban gem of Pennsylvania,” and noted the important Pittsburgh tradition of putting french fries on sandwiches. But beneath the steel, sports, and sandwiches, Pittsburgh provides a thriving arts community that holds nearly every artistic medium one could want, from opera to experimental dance and everything in between. Operating on a college student budget, though, can make it difficult to indulge in concert tickets and theater performances. Luckily, Pittsburgh abounds with plenty of low-cost — or even free — ways to enjoy its cultural side.


Pittsburgh plays host to plenty of big-name artists thanks to concerts at the Consol Energy Center, but those tickets can easily cost upwards of $50. Why spend so much money on one concert when there are plenty of cheap or free concerts happening, often right on campus? Thanks to the AB Coffeehouse, Underground, and Skibo committees, there are always plenty of concerts on campus throughout the school year. The first on-campus concert of the semester will take place this Sunday in Rangos Hall, with Javelin and Hood Internet, two production duos that specialize in mash-ups of hip-hop and indie rock tracks. Best of all, this concert is free to Carnegie Mellon students.

For those more interested in classical music than classic rock, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra offers discounted student rush tickets for to those who show up two hours before the start of the concert. You can also get a student subscription, which allows you to choose to attend either seven, 14, or 21 of the PSO’s performances for the mere cost of $12 per concert. You don’t have to travel downtown, though, for high-quality symphonic performances. The Carnegie Mellon School of Music has a plethora of orchestral groups to choose from, including the Philharmonic, Symphony Orchestra, Baroque Ensemble, Wind Ensemble, and choirs, all of which have cheap or free concerts throughout the year. The Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic’s first concert of the year will be Wednesday, Sept. 21, at 8 p.m. in the Carnegie Music Hall, so you can stroll through the music hall’s marble foyer feeling like a million bucks without having paid a cent.


Most Carnegie Mellon students are aware that their student IDs grant them free access to any of the Carnegie museums, including the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Andy Warhol Museum. What they might not realize, however, is how many other free art opportunities there are throughout Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust hosts the Gallery Crawl — “a free quarterly showcase of art and entertainment in the heart of the Cultural District,” as the Pittsburgh Cultural District’s website explains it. Patrons can meander from location to location throughout the Cultural District, enjoying free admission to multiple galleries, theaters, and exhibitions. Free art, films, and dance lessons aren’t the only incentive to attend, though — there’s also free food. At the last Gallery Crawl in July, First Commonwealth Bank gave away free snow cones, and Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts had “edible art creations” available for a donation. Gather up a group of friends and go explore at the next Gallery Crawl on Sept. 30.

If art and free food sounds like a winning combination, keep an eye on the events calendar of the Andy Warhol Museum. The museum often hosts special events and receptions in the evenings that are included with admission — which, for Carnegie Mellon students, is free — and aren’t necessarily limited to visual art. For instance, this Friday, the Warhol is presenting “Undressing the Body,” a poetry reading that will also include a South Asian-inspired reception and a Bollywood and bhangra dance party.

While the Andy Warhol Museum and the Carnegie Museum of Art may be the art museums most familiar to Carnegie Mellon students, there are other art museums in the city with plenty of opportunities for students. The Mattress Factory, contrary to what its name might suggest, is in fact a contemporary art museum tucked away in the North Side. Admission is free for students, and while the 40-minute trek by bus may discourage some, the innovative installation art and quirky atmosphere make it well worth the trip.

The Frick Art & Historical Center, located in Point Breeze, has free entrance to its art museum and its Car and Carriage Museum. The Frick also occasionally hosts free events, although most of these events occur during the summer; the last event in its First Fridays at the Frick series, a summertime outdoor concert series, will take place this Friday when the Frick’s lawn will play host to a free concert by the St. Petersburg String Quartet.

For those who don’t want to leave campus, The Frame Gallery, located on the corner of Forbes Avenue and Margaret Morrison Street, showcases student artwork in various exhibits throughout the school year. The Miller Gallery, meanwhile, has had its exhibitions reviewed in publications such as Art in America and Artforum. Although currently closed, the Miller Gallery will open on Sept. 16 with its branch of the 2011 Pittsburgh Biennial, a city-wide art exhibit featuring local artists.


There may be plenty of theaters downtown, but if you’re on a tight budget, there’s no need to leave campus for high-quality theater performances. The School of Drama will put on six performances this year, three each semester, all of which have $10 tickets for students. This year’s season includes the classic Tony Award-winning musical Sweeney Todd and Suddenly Last Summer, a one-act play by Tennessee Williams.

If you have a passion for Shakespeare, or merely enjoy seeing free outdoor theater performances, consider going to see The Merry Wives of Windsor, presented by Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks. The performances take place every Saturday and Sunday in September at 2 p.m. at a different city park each weekend; check out Shakespeare in the Parks’ website, www.pittsburghshakespeare.com, to see which location the group will be performing at each weekend. The organization also hosts an informal “Bring Your Own Bard” reading series at Té Café in Squirrel Hill, usually on the last Thursday of the month, at which amateurs and professional actors alike may read their favorite Shakespearean monologues or scenes that revolve around a particular theme for each reading.


This summer, Pittsburgh’s Citiparks hosted Cinema in the Park, where movies were shown outdoors in various parks around Pittsburgh, including Schenley Park. Unfortunately, this series is coming to a close this week, but you can still see Clash of The Titans for free this Wednesday on Flagstaff Hill. AB Films is, by far, the cheapest movie option for students — it shows four films a weekend, each for only a dollar for students with their IDs. If you wish to venture off campus, Pittsburgh Filmmakers operates three movie theaters in Pittsburgh that “feature alternatives to the multiplex,” as the organization’s website explains. Foreign films, local films, indie films, and American classics all get the chance to shine through Pittsburgh Filmmakers, which offers Carnegie Mellon students the discounted ticket price of $4.

This list, of course, is merely the tip of the iceberg of inexpensive opportunities abounding in Pittsburgh for students. If you take a chance and poke around below Pittsburgh’s sports-obsessed surface, you’ll find a city teeming with culture and an appreciation for the arts.