Salsa dancers at a free event in the atrium of the National Portrait Gallery. Photo by Jessica Ferey

One of the [many] reasons I decided to attend American University’s Arts Management program was because of its location in a big city…a city with more theaters and museums than you know what to do with. What I didn’t plan for was the exorbitant price of living in such a city. So, once I’ve paid for food, rent, and tuition, how would I ever be able to afford cultural experiences in DC?  

The answer: Become a stealthy culture vulture bargain hunter. After enough lurking around on the internet, you’ll find plenty to do at the right price.

I have been in DC for 4 months now: I’ve attended an average of 2-3 cultural events per week and my wallet hasn’t suffered too badly. Here are a few tips for finding affordable tickets as well as a list of great free things to add to your cultural calendar:

  • will become your best friend. Get on their mailing list and actually read through their emails all the way to the bottom. Even the big shots like Kennedy Center, Arena Stage, and Woolly Mammoth put up incredibly affordable tickets up on this site. You just have to plan ahead.
  • Sign up for your favorite organizations’ newsletters. They often send out promotions and special offers that you won’t be aware of otherwise. You’ll also be the first to know about upcoming productions and exhibitions.
  • Read the fine print. Nearly all organizations offer a student or “Under 35” discount, you just have to look for it.
  • Just ask! If you don’t see a discount anywhere, it doesn’t hurt to ask about one (you’ll be surprised by what you’ll get!)
  • Lurk around on social media: befriend all your favorite organizations on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and Instagram. They often feature fun contests like trivia or “name that actor/play/artist/etc” and you can be entered in to win cool prizes.
  • Go to websites like and

Now for some of my favorite arts and culture deals:

  • Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Happenings at the Harman: Free 1-hour long performance at lunchtime (dance, theatre, improve, you name it) weekly and often a monthly happy hour, both on Wednesdays.
  • Shakespeare Theatre Company has entire programming geared towards the Under 35 folks, including $18-$25 tickets to their shows and special social gatherings (although they tend to sell out far in advance)
  • Studio Theatre offers a membership program called “Studio25” which is a free program that entitles those under 30 to $25 tickets to all performances as well as notices to special events.
  • Tuesday Concert Series at the Church of the Epiphany: Free concerts every Tuesday at 12:10pm. Not only are the concerts of great artistic caliber, but the setting is just gorgeous! All are welcome, you don’t have to be religious.
  • Washington Improv Theater has free Harold shows every Tuesday night at 9pm
  • The Kennedy Center has a variety of free or affordable offerings:
    Millennium Stage presents a variety of free shows every day (yep, 365 days a year!) starting at 6pm
    MyTix are special discounted tickets for those 18-30 years old or active duty members of the armed forces.
    These tend to sell out quickly, so check back frequently.
  • Woolly Mammoth Theatre: Students and those 30 and under can enjoy $20 tickets to most performances. The catch is you cannot purchase these more than 7 days in advance. These are great for those last-minute planners.
    – They also have a great subscription option called the Six-Pack that includes 6 tickets at $150 (for those 30 and under) that you can use any way you want. Bring 5 friends to one show or go to 6 shows alone, the possibilities are endless.
  • Smithsonian Museums: this is probably the big “duh” of the list, but the museums have more to offer than what’s hanging on their walls. Check out their events listings for some pretty awesome stuff including concerts, dance performances, trivia nights, and more!
    Smithsonianat8 is another neat offering specifically geared towards the 21+ crowd
  • Got too much homework on your plate to be frolicking around in museums? Not to worry – just take your homework with you! One of my favorite places to study is in the atrium of the National Portrait Gallery. It’s quiet (most of the time) and the water fixtures add relaxing background noise. The best part: when you need a break, just get up and take a stroll through the galleries for some creative inspiration.
  • Many (if not most) of the non-free museums in the DC area offer special rates for students or even student memberships. They also offer special days when they are open to the public for free, so be on the lookout for those. The Corcoran Gallery of Art recently had its Community Day and offers free Summer Saturdays. The National Museum of Women in the Arts has a free Community Day each first Sunday of the month.

This list is obviously not exhaustive so spend some time looking around the web for other great deals.

I urge you to take the time to go discover all of the amazing museums, concert venues, theaters, and other cultural institutions the DC area has to offer. I can promise you one thing: you’ll never be bored!

Light and sound exhibit at Art All Night: Nuit Blanche DC 2013 (a free annual event!) Photo by Jessica Ferey

Jessica Ferey is a first year student in the AU Arts Management program and serves as this year’s Executive Assistant on the EALS committee.