For a family of four in the Bangor area earning the city’s median annual income of $42,115, the money available after all the bills are paid often doesn’t amount to much.
Access to the arts, be it a play or musical, a concert, a film or a dance performance, can be out of reach for a large swath of the Bangor area’s population, when a night out for four can come close to or even exceed $100 — and that’s just for tickets, not including the cost of food, beverages and transportation. And some of the area’s most affordable arts events, such as the American Folk Festival that didn’t charge admission and River City Cinema’s free outdoor movies in Pickering Square, have gone by the wayside in recent years.
A 2014 study by the Rand Corporation cited cost as a primary barrier to arts participation, alongside the perceived elitist status of many arts institutions. To that end, one of the goals of many arts organizations nationwide is to remove that barrier for most people.
“I think that nearly every arts organization in Maine in general is very keenly aware of the need to make things affordable for as many people as possible,” said Julie Richard, executive director of the Maine Arts Commission. “Being able to make sure there are free or inexpensive offerings, alongside those full-price tickets, is something I think most people in the arts care very deeply about.”
Though many organizations offer reduced prices for families, students, seniors and the military, not all do — which can put their offering out of reach for a large segment of the region’s population.
“It behooves arts organizations to keep Bangor’s demographics in mind,” said Brian Hinrichs, executive director of the Bangor Symphony Orchestra. “We are very economically diverse, and our population is really quite low, so it’s hard for us, for example, to justify charging prices that in other, larger areas could be much higher. Plus, the competition from stuff like Netflix just makes it even tougher.”
Richard said the biggest challenge can often be raising awareness of the offerings that already do exist, whether it’s discounted youth tickets, family deals or unique educational opportunities.
“This stuff is out there,” she said. “It’s just that people may not know about it.”
Which local organizations or businesses offer the most accessibility for families?
We’ve rounded up how much it costs for a typical concert, performance or screening for Bangor-area theater, music, dance and film, based on the average costs for this year’s tickets or admission at more than 25 venues in the area.
We’ve based all of these estimates on what it would cost for a family of four — two adults and two youths under 18 — to attend.
The two venues that offer professional theater — Penobscot Theatre Company in Bangor, and the national touring shows at the Collins Center for the Arts in Orono — both have a wide variety of ticket levels. Collins Center tickets start at around $60 for a family for a play, with $10 youth tickets for many shows, and go up to $140 for balcony seats for a Broadway musical, while four Penobscot Theatre tickets for a mainstage show are priced between $120 and $130.
Penobscot Theatre does have a “library day pass” program for free tickets for library card holders at libraries in Bangor, Hampden, Old Town and Castine, though those tickets are limited. It also generally produces at least one show per year that gives out tickets to at-risk members of the community, such as displaced workers or those in recovery from addiction.
For local semi-professional and community theater, there are many affordable options, including Some Theatre Company ($60), True North Theatre ($60), Ten Bucks Theatre Company ($40), Winterport Open Stage ($36-$52) and Bangor Community Theatre ($34). And local college-level theater is also an affordable way to see live theater, with tickets to University of Maine student performances priced between $40 and $48, and admission to Husson University Theatre performances priced at just $16 for a family of four.
Additionally, the Collins Center offers high-definition live broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera and the U.K.-based National Theatre, with admission for four priced between $38 and $64.
The Bangor Symphony Orchestra offers a voucher program that allows two parents with up to four children under 18 to attend together for $15 each for adults and $5 each for children — just $40 for a family of four, making it among the most affordable options in the region. The BSO performs at the Collins Center for the Arts in Orono, which also hosts many concerts on its own. Prices for a show such as the upcoming Irish Rovers concert on Feb. 25 are $20 for adult balcony seats and $15 for kids, putting the concert at $70 for a family of four to attend.
Chamber concerts at Minsky Recital Hall at the University of Maine are free for youth to attend with an adult paying full price, and similarly, classical concerts at the Gracie Theatre at Husson University offer free admission for those under 18.
In downtown Bangor, options for concerts vary. The Bangor Arts Exchange on Exchange Street offers a wide variety of rock, folk, hip hop and classical performances, with a family of four being able to attend most of them for between $40 and $80. In the summer, concerts at the Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion can cost anywhere from $100 to $160 for lawn seats, depending on the artist — though both that venue and the Gracie use Ticketmaster, which adds considerable fees onto their ticket prices.
Among the most affordable offerings, however, are the concerts held by the UMaine School of Performing Arts, the majority of which are free; those that do have a ticket price are generally $10 or less. And in the summer months, there are two free outdoor concert series — on Tuesday evenings, the Bangor Band performs on the Bangor Waterfront, and on Wednesday evenings the Bangor Public Library features an array of bands and artists.
Bangor’s two dance companies, Robinson Ballet and Bangor Ballet, each do two series of performances each year. A family of four can attend a Robinson Ballet performance for between $60 and $70, or they can attend a Bangor Ballet performance between $45 and $55.
The Collins Center also hosts a number of touring dance performances each year, and each one includes $15 tickets for youth, allowing affordable access to important dance groups including Momix, Alvin Ailey Dance and Pilobolus. And in both Bangor and Orono, local contradances not only feature great live music, but also continue a long-standing folk tradition and are great exercise — admission to monthly dances at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Bangor and at the Keith Anderson Community Center in Orono is just $5 for youth and $8 for adults.
While people can debate the artistic merits of flicks like “The Emoji Movie” or “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” versus more “serious” films like “Parasite” or “Marriage Story,” the fact remains that cinema is still one of the most affordable ways to enjoy the arts. A night out at the movies for a family of four costs $40 at Bangor Mall Cinemas, $36 at Spotlight Cinemas in Orono, or $24 at Bangor’s West Side Cinemas, with matinees priced at $36, $28 and $20, respectively, and with West Side Cinemas’ Tuesday night special priced at just $12 for four.
As far as bang for your buck goes, the Bangor region’s museums and galleries offer the best deal. The University of Maine Museum of Art on Harlow Street has free admission year-round, though art classes and art camps at the museum do have a fee. While it is mostly dormant during the winter, during the rest of the year, the Bangor Historical Society offers walking tours and lectures on a nearly weekly basis, all either free or priced at $10 per person. Admission to the Maine Discovery Museum is $9 per person for adults and children, and from May through October, the monthly downtown Bangor art walks are free to all.
All three museums on the University of Maine campus — the artistic and anthropological collections of the Hudson Museum, the local Maine history at the Page Farm & Home Museum, and contemporary art at the Lord Hall Galleries — are free. And it’s just $20 for a family of four to go to the Jordan Planetarium for a star show, or $32 for a music show.