Arts & Culture » Culture

Shoestring Sophistication

How to feed your soul without starving your belly


In times of economic duress, art and entertainment are frequently painted out of the picture by those struggling to make ends meet. It's difficult to justify a night at the opera when you've just sung a funeral dirge over your 401k. But the benefits that come from experiencing theater, dance, music and museums—while not monetary—are of great worth to one's happiness and fortitude. Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to sacrifice the finer things in life in order to balance your budget.

Historically, great art has never been the exclusive property of the well-to-do. The modern conception of "high art" is based primarily on the work's antiquity, as we prize its age over its content. Shakespeare's plays were performed for the masses, with bawdy inside jokes and outrageous references to the ruling class aimed at simpler sensibilities, the artistic equivalent of Saturday Night Live or a WWF drama. But the nebulous division between high and low art continues today. Fortunately for those of us with princely expectations but paupers' salaries, many local arts organizations offer discounted options that renew the concept that art is for everyone.

For more than 10 years, Boise Contemporary Theater has been presenting some of the most challenging and compelling work to the Treasure Valley. One of the few professional theater companies in town, their work is consistently top-notch. On the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday preceding any opening night, preview shows are a good option for the thrifty. While these sneak peeks are subject to directorial interruptions for final tweaking, patron services administrator Devin Borland said that occurs very rarely. Adults $12, students and those under 25 $12 any night during the run.

Boise Contemporary Theater, 845 Fulton St., 208-331-9224,

As any botanist will tell you, creating a carefully planned and cultivated garden is as demanding as any other art form. If you receive pleasure from pastoral perfection, then a trip to Idaho Botanical Garden's annual Winter Garden Aglow event is a great way to navigate the wonderland of the holiday season. With more than 250,000 lights and the promise of snow in the air, it is horticultural heaven. The event runs November 27-30, and continues December 5 through January 3, 2009. Adults $4, seniors $3, children ages 6-12 $2.

Idaho Botanical Garden, 2355 N. Penitentiary Road, 208-343-8649,

With a new executive director and a fresh look, Opera Idaho offers several exciting prospects for this year. With only two main-stage performances scheduled, penny-wise audiences battle it out to attend the open dress rehearsal on the Thursday night before each show. No advance tickets are available for these performances, so arrive early. Performances generally take place in the Morrison Center, Egyptian Theatre or Esther Simplot Performing Arts Academy. Adults $10, children under 13 $5 (cash or check only).

Opera Idaho, 208-345-3531,

One under-appreciated Gem State jewel is the Meridian Symphony Orchestra. Offering full concerts each year, this 70-plus-strong orchestra has grown from humble beginnings to become a treasured experience. The orchestra's holiday spectacular is great symphonic exposure for younger listeners. Adults $7, seniors/students $5, family (three adults or two adults with children) $18.

Symphonically speaking, another wonderful option is the Boise Philharmonic. This Idaho institution has been bringing the works of the great classical masters to Boise concert-goers for over 100 years. On the Friday before a weekend performance, the Phil offers "Backstage with the Artist." Music director Robert Franz and that weekend's featured soloist or guest conductor offer a lunchtime discussion of the upcoming performance at the Esther Simplot Performing Arts Academy. Admission is free and, with one day advance notice, a pre-order brown-bag lunch is available for $6.50. Saturday mornings during any concert weekend, audiences are offered a chance to attend an open dress rehearsal at a severely reduced price. Adults $12, children $7.

Continuing with the classical, Boise State offers its Student Union Classic Performances Series as a way to "make art affordable for everyone." Renowned musicians from all over the country grace the SPEC stage, merging the traditional and classical with the contemporary and fresh. General $12, Boise State faculty/staff/alumni $8, student/seniors $5.

Meridian Symphony Orchestra, 208-891-2721,; Boise Philharmonic, 208-344-7849,; Boise State SPEC, 1910 University Drive, 208-426-1494,

This year marks the 20th anniversary for Idaho Dance Theatre. In that time, they've premiered well over 100 original works, in diverse styles ranging from ballet to modern. Half-price tickets for their Thursday evening performances are available with a coupon that can be picked up at the IDT office. Adults $14 with coupon, students and seniors $14.

Keeping you on your toes is Drop Dance Collective, which consistently presents innovative choreography that educates and inspires local audiences. They're offering a limited number of tickets to the Wednesday night dress rehearsal prior to the fall show (November 6-8). Tickets can be ordered by contacting director Helene Peterson at Adults $10.

Idaho Dance Theatre, 405 S. Eighth St. Suite 363, 208-331-9592, idahodancetheatre; Fulton Street Center for the Arts, 845 Fulton St., 208-331-9224.

Your cultural envelopment need not be limited to a single day if you purchase a Boise Art Museum Pass. The pass affords the bearer access to seven participating locations, including the Basque Museum and Cultural Center, Boise Art Museum, Discovery Center of Idaho, Idaho Botanical Garden, Idaho State Historical Museum, Old Idaho Penitentiary State Historic Site and World Center for Birds of Prey. This magical passport is good for seven days after its first use and can be purchased online or by phone. Adults $19, children $9.


Besides these listed, there are many other ways be involved in the arts. Don't despair, fellow aesthete; you, too, can claim your place as an arts devotee. Lean times have necessitated belt tightening, so show off your new tight-waisted frame and treat yourself to a bit of right-priced culture.