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Here are five intellectually engaging activities that just happen to be free in The Buffalo News

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Here are five intellectually engaging activities that just happen to be free: Looking for fun, fascinating events that won’t cost a dime? We have you covered by Colin Dabkowski in The Buffalo News 

Summer’s not even half over, and you’ve already dropped appalling amounts of money on tickets for Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga. You bought a few too many vouchers for deep-fried everything at the Taste of Buffalo. Your last few paychecks seem to have been directly deposited into the pockets of Western New York’s beer vendors, its festival organizers, its myriad purveyors of pricey leisure.

But don’t go giving up on summer just yet. Because we have a plan for you.

It doesn’t involve Top 40 hits, overpriced Blue Light or, most importantly, one red cent of your hard-earned money. That’s because we live in Western New York, a summer paradise that shoehorns most of its carefree fun between the promise of May and the dread of September and affords a practically endless array of activities for the curious of mind and strapped of cash.

Consider these five suggestions for intellectually engaging activities on Western New York’s breathlessly busy summer calendar that will cost you a whopping nothing:

“Cirque du Square,” Niagara Square

For six hours Saturday, and again Aug. 16, the vast and typically desolate expanse of the square will be transformed into a European-style plaza filled with all sorts of community activities.

The event is a kind of urban experiment conceived by Newell Nussbaumer of Buffalo Rising, who called it “a practice in place-making” in a recent post. The project arose out of a desire to see the public space, which is usually devoid of people except during events like the Taste of Buffalo or the Turkey Trot, employed for its original function as a public gathering place.

“This is an attempt to turn Niagara Square into an active hub of our city, similar to what you might see in other city squares,” Nussbaumer wrote. “For far too long there has been a dearth of people at this square on weekends. We are going to show visitors what is possible – the sights and sounds and flavors of a true urban square.”

The slate of activities Saturday, running from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., will include performances from Pine Fever, the Alison Pipitone Band, Aircraft and other local bands along with lawn games, performances from local dance troupes and yoga classes. Painters from the Buffalo Society of Artists will set up their easels in the square to paint their surroundings, and representatives from the upcoming Echo Art Fair also will be on hand.

The event will feature food from Ashker’s juice bar, Public Espresso, Golden Hour Farm, Martin Cook’s, Sweet Melody’s and Three Sisters Tamale Company. The traffic circle around the square will not be closed to traffic during the event, so visitors should access the square via the crosswalks in front of City Hall or from Court Street. Search for the “Cirque du Square” page on Facebook for more information.

Buffalo Infringement Festival, Allentown

You could spend a perfectly satisfying weekend simply strolling up and down Allen Street between next Thursday and Aug. 3, when this grass-roots cultural event turns the neighborhood into a buzzing artistic laboratory. Throughout the festival, there will be street parades, screenings, buskers of every imaginable sort performing on Allen Street sidewalks, roving performances and likely more than a few impromptu jam sessions. There are nominal charges for many performances inside galleries and other venues, but scores upon scores of free performances, art shows, parades and other events abound.

The fest kicks off with a free opening parade on the streets of Allentown from the Nickel City Housing Co-Op on Elmwood Avenue and North Street and then west along Allen Street, from 4 to 6:30 p.m. next Thursday. Free performances of “Hecuba Again: Euripedes Deconstructed,” Frank Canino’s adaptation of the famous play, are at 8:30 p.m. next Thursday, 6 p.m. July 28 and 7 p.m. July 31 in Rust Belt Books. “Kidfringement,” a festival of art activities and workshops for kids, runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 26 in Days Park.

For a full schedule of dozens of free and ticketed Infringement events, check out

Body of Trade and Commerce Gallery and its Niagara Street neighbors

While there are free and doubtlessly intellectually stimulating experiences to be had in Western New York’s dozens of free museums and galleries (from the Castellani Art Museum in Niagara Falls to Springville’s Center for the Arts), this summer provides an excellent opportunity to check out both a new gallery space and the rising neighborhood it inhabits. Anna Kaplan’s Body of Trade and Commerce Gallery, launched earlier this year at 1250 Niagara St., currently features an exhibition of recent photographs and other work by Julian Montague on view through July 26. Future shows will feature work by Amanda Besl, Millie Chen and Gary Sczerbaniewicz.

Across the street from BT&C is the new headquarters of the Sugar City arts collective, a space that will host plenty of cheap or free shows and exhibitions. And next door is the much buzzed-about Resurgence Brewing Company, a community-oriented hangout where you can soak up the changing vibe of the block and its burgeoning culture for the price of a beer.

Free Fridays in Allentown and the Museum District

Thanks to sponsorships from M&T Bank, Buffalo’s major museums suspend their admission charges for one Friday per month on a rotating schedule. So if you were smart about it, you could catch the Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s acclaimed greatest hits exhibition “Sincerely Yours” on the first Fridays of August and September, the Burchfield Penney Art Center’s many concurrent exhibitions on the second Fridays of each month and, on the third Friday of the month, the Buffalo History Museum’s exhibitions on the War of 1812, the ethnic heritage of Erie County and watercolor paintings of Buffalo scenes by Patrick Willett.

Another good bet is the monthly Fourth Fridays event in the Trimain Center, 2495 Main St., where Buffalo Arts Studio is about to open a dual exhibition of new work by Alicia Malik, Kristina Siegel and Jörg Schnier. Many other artist studios and organizations in the building also open their doors during the event.

The first Friday of every month also features a free gallery crawl through the many art venues in and around Allentown. And if you play your cards right, as many galleries give out free wine and food, you won’t even have to pay for dinner.

Jazz and Shakespeare in Delaware Park

There are few more beautiful places in Buffalo than the recently rebuilt east steps of the Albright-Knox, where hundreds of music fans gather on Sunday afternoons in summer to hear free jazz performances from area artists and gaze out over the western edge of the park. Upcoming performances are Patty Flaherty and Craig Kastelnik on Sunday, Don Rice and the Bobby Jones Trio on July 27 and the final concert of the summer, a set from Three Brothers and a Distant Cousin on Aug. 3. The concerts start at 2 p.m.

If it’s an entire day of free and mind-expanding entertainment in the park you’re after, pack a picnic to eat after the jazz ends and Shakespeare in Delaware Park’s next performance begins. The grandiose “Henry V” has finished its run, but the beloved local theater company is preparing to open the second show of the summer, “The Comedy of Errors,” next Thursday. That show, guaranteed to earn plenty of chuckles from the assembled crowds, runs through Aug. 17 at 7:30 every night except Mondays.