Things to do

Culture on the cheap: free and discounted artsy activities in Charlotte, from jazz nights to gallery crawls

I don’t spend money unnecessarily. I’ll drive a car until the transmission falls out. Being a technophobe saves me time and money; I never have to wait in line for the latest iGadget. When I go to the movies, it’s usually a matinee.

But I will spend money on art.

Whatever I spend for theater, music and art exhibitions always feels like a good investment. When I can experience the arts and save a buck, that’s a win. Plenty of local organizations make that two-fer possible by offering free and reduced-price admission.

Here’s a list of a few places you can get your culture on… without busting your budget.


The Charlotte Folk Society offers monthly gatherings and concerts on the second Friday of every month. Held at the Self-Help Center/Great Aunt Stella Center (926 Elizabeth Avenue), these good-time gatherings include food trucks, bluegrass and acoustic jams and the main event – a concert in the sanctuary – at 7:30 p.m. It’s all offered for free, but a $10 per person donation is suggested when they pass the hat.

There’s no cover charge for Jazz Mondays at Crown Station Coffee House & Pub in NoDa. The music starts at 8:30 p.m.

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Admission is always free to the McColl Center for Art + Innovation, although it’ll give you the warm fuzzies to leave a donation. And here’s a rarity for an uptown organization: Even the parking is free in the museum’s lot at 10th and Church.

Note: The museum has limited hours. It’s open Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. “The Outcome,” on Thursday, Nov. 29 from 6–9 p.m., is the McColl’s celebration of the fall 2018 art residencies. DJ Flock of Slagles will spin tunes. There’s a cash bar.

The Light Factory. Charlotte’s only space dedicated to the photographic arts is in the heart of Plaza Midwood on Central Ave. There’s no admission for the gallery, which is open Wednesday through Saturdays from noon to 6 p.m.

Charlotte Lit. The Charlotte Center for the Literary Arts – a hub for writers and readers – is in the same building as The Light Factory, making 1817 Central Ave. one of the juiciest spots in town. There’s a fee for workshops, but admission to the group’s quarterly 4x4CLT poetry + art poster series is free. Next up: Poet Maurice Manning will read on Friday, Nov. 30 at Resident Culture Brewing on Central Ave. Four different posters, featuring art by local artists, will be revealed.

South End Gallery Crawl. It’s always the first Friday of each month, and it’s always – you guessed it – free. Tour Hodges Taylor, Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art, Hidell Brooks and more and see their latest exhibitions.

Mint Museum. Admission is free to both the Uptown and Randolph Rd. locations on Wednesday evenings beginning at 5 p.m.

Break free of the cubicle and get a dose of art on your lunch hour. ArtBreak at Levine Center for the Arts is held at noon on the third Thursday of each month. It’s a guided 30-minute tour of either The Mint Museum Uptown, the Bechtler or the Gantt Center for African-American Art + Culture. Isn’t that better than eating fast food in your cube while waiting for your next conference call?

Public art walking tour podcast. The Arts & Science Council offers a self-guided tour of the public art you pass by every day. Download a 45-minute, self-guided tour and start walking … and learning. There’s a podcast, downloadable brochure and a scavenger hunt.

Admission to ImaginOn/The Joe & Joan Martin Center is always free, and there’s special programming every Saturday. Take your kid, borrow someone else’s kid or just bring out the kid in you.

Camp North End, a 75-acre hub for cultural, entrepreneurial and educational groups, is the newest addition to the city’s creative scene. Follow @campnorthend on Twitter to learn when there’s a free art event at Goodyear Arts. Go to a Saturday Morning Market, or enjoy live music and food trucks in the Boileryard on Fridays from May through October.

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CreativeMornings. A heavy dose of creativity (and connectivity) happens the first Friday morning of each month. Get on group’s email list so you can be in the know. Next event: Friday, Dec. 7. Admission is free, but tickets are gone within minutes of being available.

At each gathering, a guest speaker offers thoughts on the global topic of the month. Courage, anxiety and compassion have been among topics covered. There’s always live music, which is not something that generally happens anywhere at 8:30 a.m. Coffee, juice and a light breakfast are on the house for the hordes of creatives who gather each month. Locations vary.

Sensoria at CPCC. Central Piedmont’s annual celebration of all art forms offers a number of free events, including book readings by internationally known authors. Even ticketed events (for opera, theater, concerts and more) are kept at a reasonable price. April 5-14, 2019

Open Streets 704. This occasional series closes a section of a usually busy street to vehicular traffic and allows citizens to explore on bike or foot. Get to know Charlotte at the street level.

McAdenville. From Nov. 30 – Dec. 26, an entire town just 30 miles from Charlotte turns itself into “Christmas Town USA.” Monday through Friday, 5:30 – 9:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, 5:30 – 11 p.m. More than 160 homes and 265 evergreens are lit with more than a half million lights. Drive or walk through. Expect heavy traffic.


The Levine Museum of the New South offers half-price admission every Sunday. Regular adult admission is $10. Students, teachers and active military tickets are $8.

Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte offers a “pay-what-you-can-night” the first Thursday performance of each production. Any amount is welcome, but $10 is suggested. Coming in 2019: Nina Simone: Four Women on Thursday, Jan. 24 at 7:30 p.m. PWYC tickets goes on sale at 6:30 the evening of the performance and are available in person only. All performances are held at the Hadley Theatre of Queens University, 2132 Radcliffe Ave. in Charlotte.

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Blumenthal Performing Arts Center (the people we can bow to for bringing Hamilton to Charlotte!) have occasional special offers on their productions. Learn more about student rush tickets, last-minute tickets and 30 percent off offers.

Theatre Charlotte offers $14 student tickets for every performance and BOGO tickets to ASC donors on certain nights.

The Evening Muse, a true listening room – where people go to hear the music and not just drink and yack – offers “Find Your Muse” open mic night every Monday. General admission tickets are just $3.

Opera Carolina. Students with a valid ID can get advance tickets for $20. Student rush tickets are available at the Belk Theater box office for just $10 one hour before curtain