For a tiny state, Connecticut is big on culture. We're home to hundreds of museums featuring fabulous art and artifacts. But in many cases, admissions aren't cheap — which can make them inaccessible to individuals and families on tight budgets.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways around the costs. Some museums offer reduced admissions on certain days and times — and some charge nothing at all.
While some of the free museums are tiny, off-the-beaten-path destinations, like the Strain Family Cowboy Museum in Granby, (old and unusual horse bits, spurs and antique saddles; www.strainfamilyhorsefarm.com), or the Haddam Historical Society's Shad Museum, (exhibits and artifacts documenting shad fishing in Connecticut; www.haddamhistory.org); others, like the Yale Center for British Art, are among the world's most prestigious institutions.
Stephen Wood, creator of CtMuseumQuest.com, a website and blog devoted to Connecticut's museums, has visited, and written about, many of the the state's cultural institutons, including some of its most offbeat.
After discovering the Industrial Museum at Central Connecticut University in New Britain, (www.nbim.org), Wood, a West Hartford resident, began scouring the Internet to find every museum, large or small in the state — and then decided to try visit all of them. That was in 2006. Since then, he's checked about 250 off his list of 600-plus.
"Most every town has a museum, historical society or nature center that's free to visit," says Wood. "Many of these places are created by an individual with a unique collection who wants to share his or her passion with others. Those places are quirky and fun. But Connecticut also has some impressive, world class art museums that are totally free as well."
>>Like the Yale Center for British Art. In May, The Times of London included the museums in its list of "The World's 50 Greatest Galleries". (The Center was ranked number 15, between the Musée d'Orsay in Paris and the Tate Modern in London.) The New Haven museum, which offers a year-round calendar of free guided tours, lectures, films, children's programs and musical performances, is open Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. and there's never an admission charge. Information: www.ycba.yale.edu or 1-877-274-8278.
>>The Yale University Art Gallery, also on Yale's campus in New Haven, houses a renowned collection of art, including early Italian painting, African sculpture modern art and American decorative and fine arts and offers tours, lectures, screenings and special exhibits. There is no admission charge. Information: www.artgallery.yale.edu or 203-432-0600.
>>Got history buffs or kids fascinated with boats and subs in the family? The Submarine Force Museum the USS Nautilus submarine, located on the Thames River in Groton, are free to visit. The museum, operated by the U.S. Navy, contains one of the world's largest collections of submarine artifacts, documents and photographs and there are working periscopes and other hand-on equipment. Visitors can take self-guided tours of the USS Nautilus, the navy's first commissioned nuclear powered sub. The museum also offers free lectures and children's programming. Information: www.ussnautilus.org or 860-694-3174.
>>Another family friendly destination is the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry on University of Connecticut Depot campus in Storrs. The museum offers exhibitions, puppet shows, workshops, tours, lectures, forums, and other programs that promote the art of puppetry. Admission is free; a $5 donation is suggested. Information: www.bimp.uconn.edu or 860-486-0339.
>>The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, 300 Main St. in Old Saybrook, features a small museum dedicated to the actress. The gallery, which includes some of the famous actresses' memorabilia, playbills, awards and clothing, is adjacent to the Center's main lobby. Docent tours of "The Kate" as the building is called, are available with advance reservations. Information: www.katharinehepburntheater.org or 860-510-0473.
>>Opened in September 2012, Ireland's Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, is home to one of the world's largest collection of visual art, artifacts and printed materials relating to the potato famine that occurred in Ireland from 1845 to 1850. Works by contemporary Irish artists are featured, as well as a number of 19th and 20th-century paintings. Programs include tours of the collection, discussions, films, plays, and concerts highlighting Irish culture. Admission is free. Information: www.ighm.org or 203-582-6500.
>>New Britain Youth Museum, 30 High St. in New Britain features hands-on activities for kids including a puppet theater, construction toys and games and the Dinosaur Room. On Saturdays, the museum offers a movie and and arts and crafts projects. Admission is free. Information: www.newbritainyouthmuseum.org or (860) 225-3020.
Many art organizations that regularly charge admission are free some of the time.
>>The New Britain Museum of American Art, 56 Lexington St., has free admission on Saturdays. You'll need to arrive by noon, but once you're in, you can stay as long as you like. Information: 860-229-0257 or www.nbmaa.org.
>>Admission is free between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the Wadsworth Museum, 600 Main St. in Hartford, on the second Saturday of each month. Second Saturdays for Families events include hands-on activities and special entertainment. Information: www.thewadsworth.org or 860-278-2670.
>>Stepping Stones Museum, 303 West Ave., Norwalk, is free between 5 and 8 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month. The interactive museum features interactive exhibits for kids. Information: 203-899-0606 or www.steppingstonesmuseum.org.
>>Admission to The Connecticut Historical Society museum galleries, 1 Elizabeth St. in Hartford, is free the first Saturday of each month. Information: www.chs.org or 860-236-5621
>>The Museum Pass Program, available at area libraries, offers passes -- usually for two adults and two children -- to state museums, parks and attractions. Passes are good for one-day admissions to the New England Air Museum, the Connecticut Trolley Museum, the Mystic Aquarium, Lutz Children's Museum in Manchester and loads of others. Check with your local library for details.
>>Bank of America's "Museums On Us" program offers free admission to museums and attractions across the country on the first weekend of each month. If you have a Bank of America debit, credit or ATM card, present it at any of 100-plus cultural destinations across the country and your admission fee will be waived. The "Museums on Us" promotion takes place on the first weekend of each month. For details, visit www.museums.bankofamerica.com.
Finally, not free, but still a great deal, the Connecticut Art Trail Pass, $25, offers one-day admission to 16 museums and historic sites around the state, including the Wadsworth Atheneum, The Hill-Stead in Farmington, New Britain Museum of American Art and the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme. (Admissions would cost more than $75 if purchased individually.) The pass is good for a year. Information: www.arttrail.org.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun