Are you interested in theater, museums, food festivals, or contemporary art? You may not have to look outside of your local community to find a multitude of cultural events happening in your area. Oftentimes you may even find there is a lot more going on than you realize, and that many local events can be more affordable than you think. Read on to learn more about how to participate in the arts and culture scene in your community and the benefits of getting involved.
How art supports communities
Barbara Todd is Vice President of Marketing at the Artists’ Collective of Hyde Park in New York – a non-profit group dedicated to promoting the visual arts through events such as Autumn Blaze, a fall-themed art exhibition. Barbara says cultural events are vital to the local economy because the tourists and local visitors they attract help small businesses to thrive, and they often raise money for community causes.
Local events can also give young people exposure to the arts that they might not otherwise get: “With pressure on many schools to cut budgets, the arts are often affected, making events an important resource for young people to experience real-world art encounters.”
Barbara encourages people to support their local art scene and benefit from boosting their own art appreciation at the same time. “Look for organizations and volunteer collectives in your area, and offer to help out or network among their members to find many opportunities to experience the arts, or to exhibit or perform your own work if you wish. If you own a business, encourage artists to display their work there or encourage your favorite businesses to do so,” she suggests.
How to find local events to suit your budget
Smaller, local events are often more affordable than national ones and, because they are more intimate, can make participants feel more connected to others in their community. Sites and apps like Yelp and Time Out can help you find fun things to do, but some are more focused on larger events or only cover big cities. You might find hidden-gem events close to home more easily by using social media or looking at online local event calendars.
Barbara notes that most opening receptions for visual arts exhibitions in her area are run by volunteers and are free to attend. “Many areas have their own symphonic orchestras, often comprised of volunteers; these organizations are often quite talented and charge reasonable prices for concerts,” she explains.
She urges people not to overlook regional arts organizations as good sources of information, whether through their online calendars, Facebook page, or mailing lists, and suggests local libraries can also be useful and may even host their own inexpensive events.
“Though it may be out of style, local newspapers often carry news of unique and enjoyable local events that aren’t making it online yet. Also, many businesses, like banks or restaurants, exhibit local art, often with free receptions,” Barbara adds.
How to feed the foodie in you
Food-related events and festivals take place throughout the country each year. Whether celebrating seasonal specialties such as oysters, or holding a fun themed day for kids, these events can be a great way to mingle with your local community, while offering affordable family days out.
Self-proclaimed foodie Hilary Hardiman, 35, who lives in Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn, looks forward to fall every year because of all the local food events and festivals in her surrounding area, many of which she attends with her neighbors and her kids.
"I love food, but it’s not just that – a lot of these events actually help support really good causes as well, like the Taste food festival, which raises money for a project that will provide a permanent home to local social justice organizations. I have found it a wonderful way to build community, inviting neighbors and meeting local people, which is not always easy to do in this city," she says.
Hilary also recommends festival calendar site Everfest*, which lists food and cultural events in a number of US cities, as well as some cities overseas. The site also allows you to sign up to work or volunteer at events.
How theater can bring generations together
Ann Davis is Executive Director at the DreamWrights Center for Community Arts in York, Pennsylvania. Her non-profit organization runs theater education programs, such as camps and classes, and puts on theatrical productions involving people of all ages and skill levels. Around 20% of those who take part in each production have never done theater before.
Ann says the main benefits participants gain from taking part in theater programs are improved confidence and self-esteem, as well as the ability to work with others. “A lot of people come because their child is interested and they end up getting involved themselves and trying things they never thought they would, like designing a set or making costumes,” she explains. "Theater is not just about acting, it involves all the things behind-the-scenes you don’t immediately think about, and we involve everyone in everything. We are all depending on one another and that is huge," she says.
Another positive impact of community theater is to help bring together people of different generations who otherwise may not have had much chance to interact. "People of all ages are engaging, cell phones get put away, and everyone is really communicating," Ann adds.
So whether it's to meet like-minded people, indulge your creative side, or to simply try something new, there are multiple benefits of getting involved in your local cultural scene. For more ideas on making the most of your leisure time, check out 6 Ways to Get the Most from a Big Night Out.
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