Museum admission prices in New York are working their way skyward, with inflation running higher than even our outrageous movie tickets. The big institutions are no longer shy about stepping over the $10 barrier -- the MoMA has stepped right up to a $20 regular admission (and that's despite recent shows that seemed more like corporate advertising ops than art, such as motorcycles and Armani). It's a good thing that New York's cultural resources run deep.

Below you'll find almost twenty places that either never charge, have select times when the museum is free, or only suggest their admission prices. NYC has an embarrassment of cut-rate culture riches -- go take advantage.

The Hispanic Society of America

Hispanic treasures ranging from Bronze Age tools to Goya portraits, seemingly assembled at random, fill this musty but intriguing museum. Don't miss the intricate marble chapel sculptures on the first floor and the gorgeous arabesque tiles upstairs.

Audubon Terrace, Broadway, between 155th and 156th sts. tel. 212/926- 2234; Tues-Sat 10am-4:30pm; Sun 1-4pm. Subway: 1 to 157th St.

American Academy of Arts and Letters

This prestigious century-old organization extends membership to the cream of the nation's writers and artists. In the spring and fall exhibits highlight the works of these artists, as well as the recipients of Academy prizes. There are three exhibits every year.

Audubon Terrace, Broadway, between 155th and 156th sts. tel. 212/368-5900. Open when exhibitions are up, Tues-Sun 1-4pm. Subway: 1 to 157th St.

Art Students League of New York Gallery

This independent art school, founded in 1875, is a New York legend. A host of big names started out here, including Norman Rockwell and Georgia O'Keeffe, who left behind work in the league's permanent collection. The galleries exhibit portions of that collection along with art by current students, members, and other contemporaries.

215 West 57th St., between Broadway and Seventh Ave. tel. 212/247-4510; Mon-Fri 10am-8:30pm; Sat 9:30am-4pm; Sun 1-4:30pm. Subway: N/R/Q/W to 57th St.; B/D/E to Seventh Ave.

Austrian Cultural Forum

The architecture of the new Austrian Cultural Forum has garnered more eyebrow raises than critical praise. I find the exterior ominous, like a dagger looming over the street. The interior is more attractive, with sleek touches compensating for a cold quality. The multilevel spaces accommodate several galleries. Austrian and European-themed shows rotate through.

11 E. 52nd St., between Fifth and Madison aves. tel. 212/319-5300; Mon-Fri 8am-4pm. Subway: E/V to 53rd St.

Carnegie Hall

The Rose Museum recounts the practice, practice, practice it takes to get to this storied music hall. A chronology and memorabilia are on view, in addition to occasional temporary exhibits on Carnegie legends like the Gershwins, Tchaikovsky, or Leonard Bernstein.

154 W. 57th St., between 6th and 7th aves., 2nd floor. tel. 212/903-9629; Daily 11am-4:30pm; and to ticket holders during concerts. Subway: A/B/C/D/1/9 to 59th St.-Columbus Circle.

Fashion Institute of Technology Museum

This museum on FIT's campus is long on historical fashion, specializing in the 20th century. Fashion showoffs complement surprisingly sophisticated students shows. Other exhibits display items from the special collections, like accessories or sketches.

The southwest corner of 7th Ave., at 27th St. tel. 212/517-5800; Tues-Fri noon-8pm; Sat 10am-5pm. Subway: 1/9 to 28th St.

Federal Reserve Bank

In addition to the gallery of the American Numismatic Society on the ground floor here, advance sign-up will give you the chance to glimpse a little of the building. It's basically a tour of a bank. A bank with the largest gold cache in the world, but still a bank. Along the way you'll see two short videos, one weirdly defensive about the employees of the currency-processing division, and one weirdly defensive about the employees working with the gold. Five stories beneath the street you'll get to see the vault itself, which resembles a gym locker room, only with $90 billion in gold shimmering behind the bars. As a reward for your attention, you'll get a free $1,000 in cash. Shredded cash. Call 1 to 2 weeks in advance to reserve a space.

33 Liberty St., between William and Nassau sts. tel. 212/720-6130; www. Tours weekdays 9:30am, 10:30am, 11:30am, 1:30pm, and 2:30pm (they last about an hour). Subway: A/C/J/M/Z/2/3/4/5 to Fulton St./ Broadway Nassau.

Fisher Landau Center for Art

Though this museum has been around for almost 15 years, few New Yorkers know about its 25,000-square-foot exhibition and study center. The galleries, which show painting, sculpture, and photography from 1960 to the present, are huge and well lit. You'll find three floors of viewing pleasure, usually modern art icons.

38-27 30th St., between 38th and 39th aves. tel. 718/937-0727; Mon-Sun 10am-5pm; extended Fri until 7:45pm. Subway: N/W to 39th Ave.

Hall of Fame for Great Americans

You'd think a gigantic monument designed by Sanford White with tablets by Tiffany Studios, memorializing American heroes like Mark Twain, Abe Lincoln, and Susan B. Anthony, would be a major draw, but this oddball attraction is sadly overlooked. The distant location, on the Bronx Community College campus, might be part of the problem. If you're in the area don't miss out because the open colonnade with its 102 bronze busts and classical architecture is a wonderful surprise.

Hall of Fame Terrace, 181st St. and University Ave., the Bronx. tel. 718/289- 5161; Daily 10am-5pm. Subway: 4 to 183rd St.

Hamilton Grange National Memorial

Federalist Paper author and first secretary of the treasury Alexander Hamilton started construction on his country home in 1800. Once part of a 32-acre estate, Hamilton Grange is now crowded by an undistinguished apartment building and an impudent church balcony. The National Park Service has well-maintained exhibits inside, including a scale model of the yellow Federal-style house as it looked when it was surrounded by the hills and trees of a vanished Harlem.

287 Convent Ave., between W. 141st and W. 142nd sts. tel. 212/283-5154; Fri-Sun 9am-5pm. Subway: 1/9 to 137th St.; A/B/C/D to 145th St.

John M. Mossman Lock Collection

When you first enter this room you think "well, it's just a bunch of old locks." Inevitably, though, as you learn more about the evolution of keys and vaults you get drawn in. The exhibit includes 4,000-year-old Egyptian devices, Renaissance locks with elaborate tracery, and spectacularly crafted 19th-century time locks. Sign in with the guard on the ground floor and you'll be taken to the exhibit, on a second-floor balcony overlooking the landmark General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen library.

20 W. 44th St., between Fifth and Sixth aves. tel. 212/921-1767; Sept-Mar Mon-Thurs 9am-7pm, Fri 9am-5pm; Apr-Aug Mon-Thurs 9am-6pm, Fri 9am-5pm. Closed July. Subway: 7 to 5th Ave.; B/D/F/V to 42nd St.

Museum of American Illustration

Illustrators never seem to get their proper respect as visual artists, constantly upstaged by showoff painters and photographers. The two galleries maintained by the Society of Illustrators strive to remedy that situation. Contest winners and works of society members can be found on the walls, along with classics from the permanent collection (the Society was formed in 1901, so there's a lot to fall back on). Exhibits change frequently.

28 E. 63rd St., between Park and Lexington aves. tel. 212/838-2560; Tues 10am-8pm; Wed-Fri 10am-5pm; Sat noon-4pm. Subway: N/R/W/4/5/6 to 59th St.

National Museum of the American Indian

Housing Native American treasures in a former arm of the federal government seems a bit of a cruel irony, but the overall effect is of reverence for endangered arts. This Smithsonian branch augments its exhibits with films and videos; check the schedule at There's programming for kids, too, including storybook readings and workshops. Everything is free, though craft workshops can have material fees of up to $25. Some events require reservations.

1 Bowling Green, between State and Whitehall sts. tel. 212/514-3700; Daily 10am-5pm; Thurs until 8pm. Subway: 4/5 to Bowling Green; 1/9 to South Ferry.

Nicholas Roerich Museum

One of New York's least-known museums showcases the Russian scholar and painter Nicholas Roerich. A genteel Riverside Drive town house holds three floors of galleries, cluttered with Roerich's paintings. The images favor Russian icons and Himalayan landscapes, and though the bright colors and stylized lines border on the cartoonish, the overall effect is impressive. Objects gathered in Roerich's Asian explorations are scattered throughout the museum and a subtle spiritual air pervades. The museum's motto Pax Cultura (Peace Through Culture) gets expressed in a full schedule of free concerts and poetry readings. Music plays Sundays at 5pm; check online for other dates and times.

319 W. 107th St., between Riverside Dr. and Broadway. tel. 212/864-7752; Subway: 1/9 to 110th St.

Onassis Cultural Center

Aristotle Onassis -- or as most of us know him, Mr. Jackie O. -- was the man behind this Midtown institution, which supports Hellenic art and culture. Rotating exhibits and a long-term display of rare casts of Parthenon marbles can be found here. There's also a pleasant indoor waterfall to rest for a spell.

The Olympic Tower atrium, 641 Fifth Ave., entrance just east of Fifth on 51st or 52nd sts. tel. 212/486-4448; Subway: E/V to 53rd St.

Pratt Galleries

The fruits of Pratt Institute's prestigious arts and design programs can be found in the galleries the school runs. Current student shows are mixed in with alumni and faculty exhibitions, plus other artistic innovators.

144 W. 14th St., between Sixth and Seventh aves. tel. 212/647-7778; Tues-Fri 10:30am-5:30pm; Sat noon-5pm. Subway: 1/2/3/9 and F/V to 14th St.; L to 5th Ave. Schafler Gallery on Pratt's campus: 200 Willoughby Ave. Ft. Greene, Brooklyn. tel. 718/636-3517. Mon-Fri 9am-5pm. Subway: G to Clinton-Washington aves.


Though this institution has been supporting and showcasing modern sculpture since 1928, its new home in a former Queens trolley repair shop can make a visitor feel like he's come to a start-up. Maya Lin's industrial-chic design is of the moment, but many of the touches are timeless. Ceilings soar 40 feet in the main room, and the basement project spaces are like minimalist catacombs. The rough edges haven't been disguised, but the overall effect is still refined, a perfect backdrop for the contemporary sculptures and installation art exhibited here. I love this place -- it's a miniature version of what the Tate Modern in London should have been.

44-19 Purves St., off Jackson Ave., Long Island City, Queens. tel. 718/361-1750; Thurs-Mon 11am-6pm. Some shows have a $5 suggested donation, not enforced. Subway: E/V to 23rd St./Ely. G to Court St. 7 to Court House Sq.

Sony Wonder Technology Lab

Sony sucks in new generations of technology addicts with this four-level supermodern demonstration center. Kids can try their hands at robotics, medical imaging, and video game design, among other expensive toys. Free movies round out the stimuli; see p. 54 in chapter 2. Reservations should be made in advance, up to 2 weeks ahead. Call on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday between 11am and 4pm. Otherwise, you may not get in, or you may get in at a less convenient hour later in the day.

550 Madison Ave., at 56th St. tel. 212/833-8100, or 212/833-5414 for reservations; Tues-Wed and Fri-Sun 10am-6pm; Thurs 10am-8pm; last entrance 30 min. before closing. Subway: E/N/R/V/W to Fifth Ave.; 4/5/6 to 59th St.

Urban Center

The landmark 1882 Villard Houses on Madison Avenue have an exclusive look, but the north side is actually open to the public. Enter the central courtyard, designed like an Italian palazzo by McKim, Mead & White, and take the door on your left. The Municipal Art Society and the Architectural League of New York both keep galleries here, with rotating exhibits detailing a love of the city. While you're here, check out the bookstore's huge selection of urban planning and architecture tomes.

The Municipal Art Society. tel. 212/935-3960; Urban Center Books: tel. 212/935-3592; Architectural League of New York: tel. 212/753-1722; Mon-Wed and Fri-Sat 11am-5pm. Subway: 6 to 51st St.

This article is an excerpt from NYC Free & Dirt Cheap, available in our Online Bookstore now.

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