Institute of Contemporary Art
118 S. 36th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Hours: Wed 11am-8pm; Thurs to Fri 11am-6pm; Sat to Sun 11am-5pm
Website & Reviews
In general, we Philadelphians lack a luxury afforded to Washingtonians and Parisians: free museums. Enter the vastly underappreciated ICA, which isn’t just edgy and sophisticated, but free. The 50-year-old museum, located on Penn’s campus, showcases the work of local and international artists and delights in scheduling controversial shows. One example was a retrospective of Rudi Gernreich, creator of the “pubikini” female bathing suit that exposes the very area most clothes are designed to cover. In the 1980’s it was an ICA curator who organized the Robert Mapplethorpe show whose homoerotic photographs sparked a national furor over public funding of “obscene” artwork. And twenty years earlier, the ICA was the first museum to exhibit Andy Warhol. What’s more, concerts, lectures and gallery tours are provided to the public at no charge. There are many exceptional art institutions in Philadelphia but not many of them will bring you as much street cred as the ICA.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
26th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Philadelphia, PA 19130
Hours: Thurs to Sun 10am-5pm; Fri 10am-8:45pm
It’s hard to deny the sheer awesomeness of the city’s foremost architectural landmark — the third-largest art museum in the country. Really, how can you argue with awe-inspiring collections of Renaissance, American, Impressionist and Modern art and more than 80 striking period rooms, especially when once a month, these incredible collections can be viewed for free? The first Sunday of each month, entry to the museum is pay-what-you-wish, which means museum staff, of course, would prefer that you donate a little something. But who’s counting? We’re sure you’d prefer that your finances didn’t force you to visit the museum on pay-what-you-wish day.
Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
260 South Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102
Website & Reviews
The city’s temple to (mostly) high-brow music maintains a robust program for those whose finances are significantly more low-brow. Thanks to “Free at the Kimmel,” every season resounds with more than 60 free performances that expose audiophiles and musical novices to a breadth of styles. “Free in the Plaza” puts live classical, jazz, pop, country, and world artists before the public before almost every Kimmel Center Presents performance. “Organ Postludes” brings organists to Verizon Hall after Great Orchestra on Tour concerts, and “PNC Grow Up Great” gets young kids grooving the first Saturday morning of the month from October-September. For those who prefer to absorb their education via vocal soundwaves rather than notes, there are Artist Chats before and after many performances, and weekly Saturday morning Art & Architecture Tours of the building, its artwork and surrounding neighborhood help put the music into context.
Free Library of Philadelphia
1901 Vine Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Hours: Mon to Thurs 9am-9pm; Fri 9am-6pm; Sat 9am-5pm; Sun 1pm-5pm
It’s right there in the name. The Free Library’s Central Branch fills volumes with the amount of free programming they write into its quiet hallways. The Rare Book Department, for instance, is the equivalent of a literary museum whose cases that display manuscripts and related artifacts that provide a glimpse into the 100,000 items held in the department. If you’ve got a hobby, chances are the library has a collection dedicated to it. With three dozen full-blown collections on topics from vintage postcards to cars, you can spend a full day entertaining and educating yourself by browsing books on your favorite subject. For evening events, check out some of the many author lectures, dance performances and community discussions that lighten up the stacks in the circa-1927 Beaux Arts edifice.
401 South Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147
Gallery Hours: Mon to Sun 9am-5pm
Don’t be turned off if you’re not religious or not Jewish … the Gershman Y is home to lots of free non-secular cultural programming, as well one of the city’s only art galleries devoted to fine-art photography. Film screenings, book clubs and lecture series comprise much of the center’s variable-schedule public programming, while The Borowsky Gallery and The Open Lens Gallery are open seven days a week during business hours. The Borowsky Gallery is an art space geared toward thought-provoking installations in all media and The Open Lens Gallery displays a rotating panoply of photographs on various themes.
Tara Nurin is a freelance writer and producer based in Philadelphia and Camden, NJ. She specializes in coverage of craft beer, nightlife, restaurants, sustainable food and local destinations.