Arts on a budget

It’s Friday night and you want to do something. You already know that you’re going to head to that party later, or maybe meet your friends at the bar, but none of that is going to start until 10 p.m. You’re looking for something to do earlier in the evening before you head out to meet your friends. You check out one of the local papers and online to see what’s going on around town. There are a lot of live performances you could see: you could check out a play, a concert or a dance performance. But then you see the ticket prices. Damn! Those ticket prices are more than your entire budget for the weekend. So you close your arts guide, grab the remote and settle in to kill some time watching TV while you wait to go hang out with your friends.

It’s no secret that there are a lot of great performing arts to see in Portland. Unfortunately the ticket prices can be daunting. It seems like the arts are only for the wealthy, or at least people with money. If you are a struggling student, it may seem like you will never be able to check out the cool stuff that this town has to offer. What you don’t know is that there are all kinds of ways to get to see some of the best live performance in this town without blowing your Top Ramen budget. Here are some great ways to save money and see a great performance.

Arts For All

Arts for All is a program dedicated to providing $5 tickets to performing arts events to Oregon Trail Card holders in the Portland area. There are over 50 local arts venues participating in this project including Artists Repertory Theatre, Friends of Chamber Music, Northwest Film Institute and the Oregon Ballet Theatre.

Arts for All began as Music For All when members of Go Classical PDX set up a six month pilot program that included 12 music organizations. The program was so successful that with the support of the Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC) it has been expanded to include theater, dance, film as well as fine arts venues.

To learn more about the Arts for All program, check out the website

Student Discount

Student discounts are also available at most venues. The amount of discounts can vary from a couple of bucks to over 50 percent of the ticket prices; it really just depends on the venue. When looking at events around town, always check for a student discount.


Nearly every venue in Portland relies on volunteer ushers for each performance. The usher’s job is to greet patrons, hand out programs, tear tickets, run concessions and provide general information. In exchange, each usher gets to see the evenings performance for free.

Valerie Liptak, house manager for Artists Repertory Theatre and Theatre Vertigo, points out that in general the tasks involved in ushering are not difficult, however it is important to remember that as an usher you are representative of the venue and you are expected to conduct yourself in a professional manner.

The downside to ushering is that some venues have a waiting list for ushers, which means that there may not always be a spot right away. But if you are dependable and establish a good relationship with a venue, they will continue to call you, which can give you access to a lot of free live performances.

Rush Tickets

Many venues will offer substantially discounted tickets one hour before curtain. It is a great way to save money. The catch is that you have to be at the box office one hour before the show, and you run the risk of the show being sold out and being turned away. It is a good idea to call the venue the day of the show, to get an idea  of the number of tickets available. It won’t guarantee that there will be any left when you arrive, but you can make sure that the show isn’t sold out, and save yourself a trip.

Many venues also offer their own special discounts such as pay what you can nights, two for one tickets and other offers that are unique to the venue. The best thing that you can do if you are interested in attending an event, is to contact the box office directly to find out what kind of special prices they may be offering and when. It may take a little bit of time and investigation, but you just might stumble on some excellent entertainment that won’t destroy your budget.