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You don't have to cut culture from your budget

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 16, 2011 - When there's little left after buying groceries and paying bills, seeing a play or buying art or music may seem frivolous. But you can enjoy the arts even on the tightest budget.

Ron Riess, a former stay-at-home dad whose children are grown, and his retired Army wife spend about $1,500 a year on the arts. Theater, mostly, about three shows a month.

One way they keep costs down is knowing which venues offer regular discounts and when. The Riess' like to take advantage of HotCity's $15 Thursday night previews -- $10 cheaper than seats for the remaining productions.

"It's a good deal," Riess said.

But for Riess, it's much more than a bargain. While some theater-goers would rather see a more polished show later in the run, Reiss actually prefers preview nights.

The tension of a less-rehearsed performance is what keeps Riess on the edge of his seat. In fact, what he really relishes are inexpensive college or even high-school performances. He and his wife have a particular fondness for their neighboring Saint Louis University productions, which also have a $10 price tag.

"I don't really enjoy watching perfection; I'm much more intrigued by imperfection and the possibility of mistakes and the recovery from that rather than somebody doing something perfectly," Riess said.

A 10 spot seems to be a magic number for several frugal arts lovers we talked with. Tasha Burton, recently laid off from her medical research job and trying to make a go of creating and selling hair and body butters, thinks $10 is really a bargain if you also get a souvenir.

Through Facebook, Burton learned of a Thanksgiving week album release party at The Gramophone for the artist Black Spade.

"It was a $10 cover but the cover also came with the album on vinyl that you could play, almost like a collector's item -- that was pretty neat," Burton said.

Cultured kids at little cost

What do you do when your 9-year-old son begs to see the Monet exhibit at the Saint Louis Art Museum? First, congratulate yourself on raising a cultured kid and second, find a way to get him there.


Thanks to their $75-a-year family membership, the exhibition was free for single mom Jen Amunategui, her Monet enthusiast and her younger son. That day, Amunategui saved $22, the cost for one adult and two children between 6 and 13. But you don't have to have a membership to get in for no charge; special exhibits are free to everyone on Fridays.

Amunategui has also found you don't have to spend a lot of money to bring art into your home. She buys from the Turner Center for the Arts in Maplewood, a program for adults with disabilities and kids.

"I haven't paid more than $75 for anything, and that includes the frame," Amunategui said.

Free summer movies on Art Hill, no-cost St. Louis Community College kids theater productions and a $60 Groupon membership to the Contemporary Art Museum also help Amunategui infuse her children's lives with artistic adventures.

"There's no excuse for not raising your children in a cultured environment just because you're a single a parent," Amunategui said.

Another young mother, painter Megan Reike, enjoys showing her boys, ages 8, 4 and 1, that artistic beauty exists outside museum walls -- for no cost except gas money. The Saint Louis Art Fair in Clayton, Belleville's Art on the Square and Citygarden sculpture park are obvious choices. Less obvious is a Jefferson City Street fair with closed roads dedicated to chalk artists and the graffiti adorning North St. Louis buildings.

"If you want to, you can see art in everything and that's free," Reike said.

Free is key for Reike and her husband, who've burned through a home equity loan to buy necessities and have been shouldering two mortgages since their tenants stopped paying rent two months ago.

Among their favorite no-cost evenings are art exhibit openings. Almost every Friday night, at least one gallery, if not a half dozen, serve wine and appetizers while debuting a new show.

"It's a free night out on the town with my husband," Reike said.

Experiencing art is a great way to keep your spirits up even at home, according to Reike. One day last week after her husband's car broke down, she funneled her frustrations into a family art project: a give-thanks-for-what-we-have "blessing tree" made out of branches, construction paper and yarn -- with a splash of the sparkly stuff.

"I could just feel sorry for myself -- or I could whip out the glitter," Reike said.

Low-cost arts options

Missouri Arts Council Card: Percent discounts and 2-for-1 admissions

Theater company regular discounts including student/seniors/rush fares including New Line's "Beat the Recession" prices , Mustard Seed's "Pay What You Can or Pay with a Can" for all Saturday 2 p.m. and the Black Rep's lunch hour rush tickets

Regional Arts Commission ArtsZipper's special offers

Visual art from Turner Center

High school/college student productions

St. Louis Symphony discounts

Groupon and other group-discount offers

Facebook offers made available after "liking" an arts venue's page

Free stuff

Friday night art gallery openings

Regional Arts Commission ArtsZipper's no-cost events

Third Degree Glass Factory Third Fridays free glassblowing demos, live music

Select St. Louis Symphony concerts

Shakespeare Festival in Forest Park every June

No-cost admission through ushering at The Rep , Fox Theatre , The Sheldon  and other venues

Outdoor summer music concerts: Whitaker Music Festival at Missouri Botanical Garden , Twilight Tuesdays at the History Museum, Jungle Boogie at the St. Louis Zoo , Fair St. Louis and Live on the Levee  and many neighborhood places: Check the Beacon's listings in the spring

All Bandtogether music concerts

1,500 free Muny seats each show

If you know of other regular discounts or free opportunities, email dkorando@stlbeacon.orgwith cheap art in the memo field.

Contact Beacon staff writer Nancy Fowler. You can also follow her arts alerts on Twitter: @NFBeaconArts.

Nancy Fowler Beacon arts reporter

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.

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