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18 money-saving ways to enjoy the arts

THE KING RETURNS Shawn Klush, ''the world's top Elvis,'' is on the bill at the Regent Theatre in Arlington on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. THE KING RETURNS Shawn Klush, ''the world's top Elvis,'' is on the bill at the Regent Theatre in Arlington on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1.
By Geoff Edgers
Globe Staff / January 9, 2009
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In this economy, it's hard to justify slapping down $219 for a Van Morrison ticket. But don't feel as if you're stuck with Michael Flatley's "Superstars of Dance''(and expanding face) on the boob tube. Now more than ever we need an inspiring artistic getaway. And the arts need you. Endowments are down, as are ticket sales for many organizations and so, as they say in the used car business, "Come on down!'' Keep your eyes and ears open. You might be surprised at how cheaply you can get a dose of culture. Some deals, from "rush'' sales to student discounts, have been there all along. But arts leaders are trying new ways to fill seats. "It's a time for us to step up our game,'' said Catherine Peterson, executive director of ArtsBoston, which sells half-price tickets online and at its Faneuil Hall and Copley Square booths. For starters, here are 18 bargains for 2009.

1. Like a ScrubaDub car wash, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is always free on your birthday. This year, the museum has an added special deal for everyone on a pair of Wednesdays. Bank of America is sponsoring a school vacation-week special, which means it is free on Feb. 18 and April 22. (Admission is normally $12.) A bonus: You don't even need to have a child.

2. Facebook isn't just for bothering long-forgotten high-school acquaintances. The Huntington Theatre Company is using it as a publicity tool. If you sign up as a fan on the organization's Facebook page, you'll get a variety of special offers, including free tickets. That said, if you get really desperate for tickets and don't want to get Superpoked, you can always work as an usher in exchange for free seats.

3. The Boston Symphony Orchestra is looking to reach the kids. That means you, Mr. 34-Year-Old. A new program offers $20 tickets to people under 40. Also, don't forget the BSO's rush program. A limited number of $9 tickets are available for Tuesday and Thursday night and Friday afternoon concerts. They're sold on the day of the gig, must be purchased at the BSO box office, and are limited to one per customer.

4. On Jan. 19, the Museum of Fine Arts waives its admission fee in honor of Martin Luther King Day. There will be a poetry slam, a lecture by Berklee professor William Banfield, and films on Shirley Chisholm and Paul Robeson.

5. Look for "Pay-What-You-Can" discount programs at a variety of theaters, including the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge and New Repertory Theatre in Watertown. Typically offered for final dress rehearsals, tickets at New Rep are a minimum of $5 on the day of the show, and $15 to $20 for an advance seat for shows on Jan. 11, Feb. 22, and April 19.

6. Children get into most museums for less. In the case of the Cape Cod Museum of Art in Dennis, youth really pays. The CCMA allows anyone 18 and under in for free. That goes for the show opening tomorrow, "Teaching Art/Creating Art," featuring work by former and current teachers in the area. If you just can't pass for a teenager, try Thursdays, which are open for a donation.

7. If you're looking for a free movie, the Museum of Science is offering Friday night screenings at its Mugar Omni Theater. That kicks off tonight with "Roving Mars" and continues the next two Friday nights. Tickets are available at the museum's box office on show day and are first come, first serve. Also, you can only go to two of these screenings.

8. Today, the American Repertory Theatre has a special one-day sale: $25 tickets for performances during the first week of each featured play this season. That includes productions of Chekhov's "The Seagull," Samuel Beckett's "Endgame," and David Mamet's "Romance."

9. General Motors shouldn't be the only ones at the trough. How about jazz fans? Scullers Jazz Club launched a "bailout" plan in November. Sign up for the Scullers newsletter and you can get a bunch of free tickets for shows when they're available. Just go to www.scullersjazz.com/popup/form.html.

10. Those social networkers at the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park are getting all flickr'ed up. If you join the Lincoln museum's group and submit "interesting, creative, unique, or humorous images of DeCordova or your friends and family's visit," you'll get two free passes (worth $24).

11. The library is not just for sending anonymous Hotmail messages. You can also find museum passes there - usually offering free admission for two adults and two children. We'll plug Mass MoCA because you really should check it out. Head to the North Adams library, where you can get a pass to the local museum with a library card from anywhere in the state.

12. Even if students didn't get free admission, which they do, we would suggest the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton. For just a $5 adult admission, you can walk through an institution featuring the largest collection of these religious icons in North America. And keep an eye on the museum's website - www.museumof russianicons.org - which will occasionally feature two-for-one coupons.

13. The Institute of Contemporary Art's family programs have drawn raves since the museum opened its waterfront building. An added bonus: Families (2 adults plus children 12 and under) get free admission to the museum on the ICA's Playdates, a day full of art activities and programs held the last Saturday of the month. The next date is Jan. 31 for a program centered around Ugo Rondinone's Art Wall.

14. Wanna bum rush Orfeo? Who doesn't. The Handel & Haydn Society's performance of "L'anima del filosofo," an opera based on the Orpheus legend, is sure to draw a crowd with Sir Roger Norrington conducting the Jan. 23 and 25 performances at Symphony Hall. But if you're looking to save, head to the hall three hours before the concert to snag the remaining $9 tickets.

15. Arlington's Regent Theatre, in the midst of a membership drive, is offering family memberships for $25 apiece. Sign up and later in the year, the Regent promises to zap you an e-mail offering free seats to an old-style, vaudeville/variety show. For now, pencil in a few of the $5-per-ticket discount members get for some shows. On Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, that would mean cheaper seats to see Shawn Klush, the "world's top Elvis."

16. You may need to throw some cash onto the gas card, but Providence's Trinity Repertory Company is worth the ride. For the rest of the season, the company is offering a number of $20 tickets to performances, which include productions of Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest" and David Hare's "The Secret Rapture."

17. Ever seen those glass flowers at the Harvard Museum of Natural History? Now's the time. Bank of America cardholders get free admission the first weekend of every month. (Otherwise, tickets are $9.) The museum also has a Charlie Card discount program, which lets you bring a friend in for half price. One other tip: Befriend a Harvard kid. He or she can get you in for free.

18. Sometimes, you've just got to stick to the tried and true. One of the oldest, best buys for arts consumers remains the BosTix booths at Copley Square and Faneuil Hall. There you'll find half-price, day-of-show tickets. You can also go to www.BosTix.org. For family-friendly performances, go to www.BosTixjr.org.

Geoff Edgers can be reached at gedgers@globe.com.

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