Getting cultured can be expensive. But you don’t need to go to a fancy finishing school to get it done. There are quite a few ways to get DIY culture for free. Some don’t even require you to be a resident.
The newest program is the Culture Pass. All you need is a New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, or Queens Library card. You need to either be a NY State resident, or have a photo ID that proves you work or attend school in the 5 boroughs.
For a limited time there’s a special Lou Reed edition NYPL card. And worry not if you already have a card. For $1 you can go in person to the Library for the Performing Arts at 65th & Columbus Ave. and trade up. Or if you need a brand new card, apply online.
How Culture Pass works is that you’ll need to make an online reservation ahead of time. Problem is, it’s so popular that the closest reservation is now in November! The list of participating museums is currently 47 long, including the NY & Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, American Museum of Natural History, the NY Transit Museum, and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. These are some of the most popular museums in NYC. I think it’s quite worth the wait. You get either 2 or 4 passes per museum. Excellent for families.
This benefit is a bit more involved to get. You have to schedule an appointment to show up in person to apply for the ID itself and meet all the documentation requirements (be sure to go over the checklist carefully), and then appear in person to most of the participating institutions in order to sign up for the free memberships. Only a select few allow you to apply for membership online.
But it’s worth the effort because the card is useful for so many other things: ID to open accounts at select banks and credit unions, 15% off of CitiBike membership, 45% off New York Road Runners (new members only), 2-for1 ice skating at Chelsea Piers, and more.
Then there are all the “always free” museums. Some are limited to the first Saturday of the month, or specific evening hours. Others are “pay as you wish”. They’ll have a “suggested” admission price, but if you really can’t swing it, try to pay as much as you can. If no one pays, they may very well rescind the offer. In 2018, the Met had to start charging non-residents full-price admissions because people paying the suggested price declined by a whopping 73%. You greedy tourists, you.
Visit NYC-Arts for a comprehensive list of museums with free admissions.
The more I think about it, having to wait until November for the Culture Pass isn’t such a bad thing. Do you really want to go to a popular museum at the height of tourist season??? A nice rainy November day would suit me fine.