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How and Why to Subscribe to an Arts Venue

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If you’ve ever read a book set in turn-of-the-last century in London or New York, you’ve probably read about characters who spend the summer on their country estates and return to the city for “the season.” (The Age of Innocence is just such a book and a great read!) These wealthy characters wanted to be in town for all of the great operas, ballets, and concerts that their city had to offer. And they had bought their tickets in advance through a subscription.

Subscriptions aren’t just for the rich and famous anymore. In our own egalitarian age, many venues (like concert halls, theaters, performing arts centers) offer subscriptions at prices many of us can afford.

There are many reasons to consider subscribing to an arts venue:

  • Commit to a few nights out on the town—especially if you’re single. When I was single, it was hard to do all the fun things I wanted to do without a plus one. By subscribing to an art venue, you can force yourself to spend time out of the house doing things you enjoy. If you have the money, you could even invest in a second subscription. Invite a new friend every time (she can pay you back for the ticket if you like) or use your extra ticket as a fun way to show men that you’re interested.
  • Commit to date night. For married couples, pre-paid, pre-planned date nights can be a lifesaver. When you’ve already paid for tickets, it’s much easier to escape fallback dinner-and-a-movie dates. Balance your budget by planning inexpensive date nights for the weeks you don’t have tickets.
  • Save money. Subscribers often save 10-20% percent per ticket over the price of buying tickets separately.
  • Guarantee your seat. Subscribers usually get first dibs on events, so subscribing is one of the best ways to make sure your show is never sold-out. As an added perk, many venues let you subscribe to specific seats and return to them for every show of the season. It might sound silly, but it’s fun to sit in “your seats” again and again throughout the season.
  • Support the arts. Arts venues push subscriptions because they guarantee a certain income. By helping venues and performers plan, subscribers are an important part of keeping the arts on stage.

The arts season normally runs from fall to spring, but high summer is the time to think about purchasing a subscription. If you do decide to buy a subscription, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • What can you afford?: Subscribing is expensive, but it can be less expensive than you think. For example, $300 gets you 8 ballet performances at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC; $200 gets you 12 music concerts at the George Mason University Center for the Performing Arts in Fairfax, VA. Look for venues that offer events within your price range. Be sure to include transportation and babysitting in your budget.
  • What kinds of performances do you want to see?: Many venues offer 2 kinds of subscriptions: packages and a la carte. A package series will generally feature a set number of performances on pre-determined dates, usually organized by genre—ballet, opera, classical music, jazz. (The package series of some venues feature broader categories like dance like may include different styles of dancing.) An a la carte series lets you pick your own performances at a discounted price. These informal subscriptions are often a great, budget-friendly way to start subscribing, but you’re less likely to stumble on something new or different than you would be with a package series.
  • Where is the best venue?: In smaller towns, you may be lucky to have access to a single art venue. But larger city often boast many. When you have a choice, consider which venue offers the kinds of performances in an atmosphere you most enjoy. Price is an issue, too. The better-known or centrally-located a venue, the more you’re likely to pay per seat. Keep in mind that many universities and colleges have performance halls that are often a hidden bastion of the arts in their communities—and that sell tickets at reasonable prices.
  • What kind of seats would you prefer?: Seat location is the biggest single factor driving ticket prices—the better the seats, the more expensive the subscription. Subscribe to the best seats you can afford. Keep in mind that the view for musical events may not be as important as for more visual art forms like theater or ballet.
  • What night of the week would you go out?: Time is the second most important factor driving ticket prices. It can be tempting to subscribe to the least expensive evening, but the subscription will be a waste of money if you choose an inconvenient night of the week. Even though they are moderately more expensive, Friday and Saturday evening subscriptions are often most practical for parents of school-age kids. A Sunday afternoon subscription is a great way to save money and include the whole family.
  • What will you do if you have to miss a show?: A la carte subscriptions allow you choose only convenient events, but subscribing to performances months in advance means you may unexpectedly need to miss a show. Adam and I have found that it is good idea to have a backup plan with an evening falls through so your tickets don’t go to waste. Many subscription programs offer free ticket exchange for another show in the same series. You should also have a shortlist of friends or family that might like to take your tickets at the last minute.

Subscriptions aren’t for everyone. People with very young children or health conditions (including pregnancy!) that may prevent them from attending shows may find they haven’t gotten their money’s worth. Those who are living on an extremely tight budget might want to consider less-expensive date nights instead. And, because you commit to viewing many performances up front, subscriptions probably aren’t ideal for people who aren’t familiar with the art form to which they are subscribing. But for someone looking for a great way to add beauty and class to her life, subscriptions are a great investment.

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2 responses »

  1. Another great article! Alot of the time ballets and symphonies just seem so out of reach – but the venues really do provide alot of opportunities to make them available to a wide audience (both interest and income wise).

    Shameless plug by an art major: another really great way to add a little culture is to actively seek out the art events in smaller towns or at universities. It’s almost always cheaper, supports the next generation of artists/performers, and you won’t usually have to deal with the stress of a larger city (that last one may be a perk just to me – city driving is pretty scary IMO).

    • College students are especially lucky when it comes to the arts. Many venues offer student discounts or rush tickets to performances. And you’re right–there is a lot of great art on campus. Thanks for the reminder!


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