Free and Low-cost Ways to Experience the Arts on Campus

Check out some of your many options, including museums, cultural experiences, and student performances.

By Ben Richard June 21, 2022
Free and Low-cost Ways to Experience the Arts on Campus

Let’s be honest: These past few years have been tough. Some of us lost jobs, family members, and even parts of our lives. Since March of 2020, many of us have been turning to films, music, and other art forms/media as a means to “escape” real life. Whether this is a new Netflix series, a TikTok musical, or even a virtual concert, you’ve most likely experienced the arts in one way or another; however, the arts can get pretty expensive! Now that businesses are starting to open back up and expand their hours, I tried finding free and low-cost ways to experience the arts here on campus.

Museums and Cultural Experiences

University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA): The UMMA is a free art museum on State Street and is open to the public. UMMA’s collections are among the oldest in the nation in university hands and include more than 21,000 objects from Western, Asian, and African traditions as well as modern & contemporary art. With the award-winning Maxine and Stuart Frankel and the Frankel Family Wing’s addition in 2009, the museum has doubled in size and features open-storage galleries and study rooms, state-of-the-art conservation and art storage facilities, a curatorial research center, and a 225-seat auditorium for performing arts programming. The museum houses many study and gathering spots for students and also includes both a cafe and a store.

Kelsey Archeological Museum: The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology houses a collection of more than 100,000 ancient and medieval objects from the civilizations of the Mediterranean and the Near East. Due to their large collection, they can only ever display two percent of their artifacts at a time! So, if you’ve ever wanted to see what Greek sculptures, Roman jewelry, or even a child mummy looks like, this is the place that you will want to visit during your time at U-M. Again, admission is free and open to the public.

Statue of the First Emperor of Rome (Augustus)
Statue of the First Emperor of Rome (Augustus) on display at the Kelsey Archeological Museum

SMTD Performances

The University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre, and Dance (SMTD) offers over 900 concerts and performances each year. These include student and faculty recitals; orchestra, band, and choir concerts; and opera, musical theatre, theatre, and dance productions. Some recent performances include the opera Cendrillon, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concertos No. 1 + 3, and the musical Sweeney Todd. These performances take place in some of the nation’s best performance facilities, including Hill Auditorium (known for its superb acoustics) and the Power Center, which was modeled after the Greek theatre at Epidarus, while the stage was an experimental combination of proscenium arch and thrust. Most, if not all SMTD events, are free!

As a shameless self-plug, I’ve been involved in many SMTD performances during my time here at U-M and would highly recommend them to anyone interested in going to one. Each year, the University Orchestras put on a Halloween concert that showcases the talent and hard work of their students through spooky classics. As for the University Bands, they organize the annual Band-o-Rama concert that features music from a variety of history’s most famous marches combined with the energy and excitement of the Michigan Marching Band. These two annual performances encapsulate the level of passion and talent that the students in SMTD have to offer. One of my favorite performances that I’ve been involved with was the University Orchestra’s Songs and Dances of Death concert back in November of 2021, where I played Contrabassoon in Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring/Le Sacre du printemps. The ballet depicts various primitive rituals celebrating the advent of spring, after which a young girl is chosen as a sacrificial victim and dances herself to death – and trust me, the ballet is as cool as it sounds. If you enjoyed the film Midsommar, then you’ll definitely enjoy the Rite of Spring. This is such a cool way that you could experience the arts here on campus.

two musicians smiling after musical performance
My friend Nadia P. and I smiling after the Rite of Spring performance in November of 2021

Student Organizations

Student organizations are an amazing and free way to experience the arts here on campus. You can meet other students with similar interests and help integrate the arts into the University of Michigan community.

Arts at Michigan: Arts at Michigan's mission is to integrate the visual, performing, and literary arts into the undergraduate experience at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor campus. Arts at Michigan programs actively engage students in the arts as a meaningful way to build connections between academic and co-curricular experiences, and to support students in their diverse roles as creators, audience members, and leaders in the university's vibrant arts community.

M-Flicks/UAC: M-Flicks is a student-run organization that hosts big-name screenings, sneak previews, and trivia nights in collaboration with film and television distributors for Michigan students free of charge. They aim to create a community on campus for those who love video and film entertainment. Recently, they hosted a screening of 10 Things I Hate About You in Mason Hall and an Oscars screening in the Michigan Union with free food.

Living ArtsEngine: While Living ArtsEngine is technically a Michigan Learning Community (MLC) and not a student organization, it’s a free way for students to engage with the arts while living in the residence halls here on campus. Living ArtsEngine is an interdisciplinary residential community in Bursley Hall on the University of Michigan’s North Campus that brings together 115 undergraduates in the arts, architecture, engineering, and other fields to explore innovation, creativity, and collaboration. Living ArtsEngine strives to provide an open environment that encourages students to generate and pursue creative new ideas. The program offers weekly classes and monthly workshops by distinguished faculty and working professionals from the fields of engineering, architecture, visual arts, film, music performance and composition, dance, and theater.

Music: UMS Performances

Celebrating its 143rd season this year, the University Musical Society (UMS) has brought some of the arts’ biggest names to our campus here in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Our beloved Hill Auditorium has been home to performances and events from Wynton Marsalis, Yo-Yo Ma, The Philadelphia Orchestra, and Audra McDonald, to name a few. In 2014, UMS was selected as a recipient of the National Medal of Arts, the nation’s highest public artistic honor, awarded annually by the president of the United States at the White House. As a community, we are privileged to have such an amazing organization like this in our own backyard.

Let’s talk about some of the highlights for this year:

  • The season opener is Trevor Noah! That’s right–the Trevor Noah is coming to Ann Arbor as part of his “Back to Abnormal” stand-up comedy tour. While most UMS performances involve some form of music, they occasionally book performers of different types of art styles, including comedy.
  • Step Afrika! blends percussive dance styles practiced by historically African American fraternities and sororities, traditional African dances, and an array of contemporary dance and art forms into a cohesive, compelling artistic experience. It’s an exhilarating experience. This is a once-in-a-lifetime performance that you cannot miss.
  • The Berlin Philharmonic, arguably one of the best orchestras in the world, is touring the United States – including Ann Arbor – with two different programs. The first program includes Erich Korngold’s Symphony in F-sharp minor, while the second consists only of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 7, which is one of my personal favorite orchestral pieces!

Those events above sound pretty expensive, right? Wrong! All U-M undergraduate students are eligible to receive a FREE ticket to a UMS performance through the Bert’s Ticket Program (a $20 value). Bert’s Tickets will be available online or in-person at the League Ticket Office in the fall. Beyond that, when you eventually go to more performances, UMS offers $12 and $20 student tickets for all college students. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the arts in a way that doesn’t break your bank.

All-in-all, these events and experiences scratch the surface of what campus has to offer in terms of the arts – all for a low cost or free! As you begin moving into your residence hall and experiencing life in Ann Arbor, remember that you have all these resources available to you at your fingertips.

Ben Richard

Ben Richard is a senior from Saline, MI studying bassoon performance in the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance. He recently finished his degree in biomolecular sciences in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. He is the social chair for the tour guide program on campus and loves giving tours to prospective students and their families. When not on campus, he works at a nearby pediatrics office and enjoys grabbing coffee from Black Diesel Cafe and hanging out with his dog, Max, back at home.