Explore easily accessible art communities located right outside the Philadelphia area.
The suburbs offer an affordable alternative to Philly’s First Fridays and neighborhood galleries. Less than an hour outside the city suburbs, such as Bethlehem, Doylestown and even the Main Line, offer cultural experiences at student-friendly prices.
Bethlehem (Bieber TOURWAYS – $24.25 round trip)
A hallmark of post-industrial prosperity, this lively center of arts, music and, yes, casino gambling is just an hour’s jaunt from Philly.
Bieber Tourways cost $13 one way, leaving from 30th Street Station every morning and dropping travelers off near Bethlehem’s lively historic district.
The city’s quaint cobblestone streets house a wealth of locally produced art. In an afternoon’s stroll through the heart of historic Bethlehem, visitors can check out fine arts exhibits at the Snow Goose and Yarolov galleries.
For an exploration in the avant garde, venture off the beaten track to explore the Banana Factory, which exhibits two rising local stars each week.
For more adventurous souls, consider a night at the Bethlehem Sands Casino. This gorgeously gaudy tribute to the new economy looms over the rusted skeleton of Bethlehem Steel. Even if you’re not a gambler, this surreal figure of the past and present is worth checking out.
Students looking to get away this summer can take a road trip to Musikfest, running from Aug. 5-14 and Celtic Classic Festival, running Sept. 23-25.
Doylestown (SEPTA ONE DAY INDEPENDENCE PASS – $11, Michener Art Museum – $12.50)
This upscale suburb is just a train ride away via the Landsdale/Doyestown Line. Officially recognized as one of Pennsylvania’s “resort towns,” Doylestown has long been a summer abode for the wealthy. Lately, this vibrant village has re-focused its attention on drawing in a different kind of wealth – musical, creative and artistic richness have become the hallmark of Doylestown.
To get a fresh taste of local art, visit the Chapman Gallery, the Gratz Gallery or the Sabine Rose Gallery. For those who want a more in-depth exploration of Bucks County’s artistic tradition, you may want to splurge on a $12.50 ticket to the James A. Michener Art Museum.
Kathleen McSherry, a representative of the Michener Art Museum, recommended the upcoming exhibit “Ali and Elvis: American Icons.”
The exhibit explores the media representations of two characters: Ali and Elvis. Al Wertheimer is a news photographer who followed Elvis during much of his early career. Michael Ezra, the author of “Muhammad Ali: The Making of an Icon,” will be present throughout the course of the exhibition for one-on-one questions and book signings. The exhibition runs through May 15 and can be explored at https://michenermuseum.org.
Art enthusiasts with a predilection for partying should check out the Annual Doylestown Arts Festival. Held during the beginning of the school year, it straddles the weekend of Sept. 17-18 and displays a rich variety of local artists, artisans and craftsman in a festive, social environment.
The Main Line (SEPTA ONE DAY INDEPENDENCE Pass – $11, Devon Horse Show – $8)
Philadelphia’s “East Egg” is the historical home to old money, and is an expanse of renovated Tudors and sprawling estates clustered along the Paoli/Thorndale line. But don’t judge the Main Line too quickly. In spite of its aristocratic reputation, the Main Line offers different historical and cultural actives affordable for even college-age paupers.
Take the Valley Forge National Historical Park. The natural beauty of its uninterrupted rolling plains and wooded hillocks are complemented by a variety of free or low-cost activities.
Marlene Concordia, a visitor use assistant for the park, explained a variety of periodic historic activities including cannon firings, living history re-enactments and real-life battlefield training by a Revolutionary War commander. The next scheduled historical celebration is June 19 and honors the “March-Out” – the period in history when George Washington’s Muhlenberg Brigade left its winter encampment and went on to win the American Revolution.
Regularly scheduled activities include free-guided walking tours of the park and a trolley tour, held three times daily, which costs $13 for students.
Beginning May 26, the Devon Horse show costs only $8 to enter and offers a week-long equestrian extravaganza. Explore the region’s remnants of British high culture while chomping on a cheesesteak and observing the agile feats of some of the Northeast’s finest show horses. Though it may sound a bit stogy, the average attendee is no blue blood.
Most show up for the rare opportunity to see Clydesdales, purebreds and nationally renowned jockeys compete in this highly traditional, visually stunning sport.
Carl O’Donnell can be reached at email@example.com.