Free and cheap things to do in Champaign-Urbana
Here's a sampling of free and cheap things to do where I live--Champaign-Urbana, Illinois--offered up for my neighbors (who may not know all these places), for visitors (who may not have time to hunt up all the cool things to do), as a source of inspiration for people who live elsewhere, and just to let folks from away know that CU is a happenin' place, with lots to do.
This post is a response to Wise Bread's open blog call for posts on things to do for under $5. It's organized by kind of activity, because I thought that would be the most useful for someone looking for something to do. The same six or seven sponsors do show up over and over again, because they sponsor so much free and cheap stuff to do in CU. That makes for a certain amount of repetition--which I didn't see any way to avoid, except organizing the post by sponsor, which didn't seem as useful.
There are tons of events with free music in CU. Some are annual events:
Strawberry Jam which this year was mostly bluegrass, roots, and folk music--and which was not only free, but gave out free strawberries and ice cream.
Champaign's Downtown Festival of the Arts this year had two stages with everything from celtic to jazz to african drums to belly dancers.
Taste of Champaign has three stages and all kinds of music--cajun, big band, rockabilly, funk, reggae, irish, blues, hip hop....
Meadowbrook Park Jazz Walk has something like a dozen local musicians performing in the sculpture garden. Instead of a series of acts on one stage, they're all performing at once. Strolling from band to band, from sculpture to sculpture, is a great way to spend an evening.
There are also recurring events:
Bach's Lunch--classical, jazz, and world music in the lobby of the Springer Cultural Center.
Krannert Uncorked--a wine (and other beverage) tasting, with cheese and crackers, happens in the lobby of the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts almost every Thursday. There's free music a couple of times a month.
There is also lots of music played at bars, coffee shops, bookstores, and other venues--far more than I can possibly link to. Except for the bars, there's usually no cover charge. Even the bars often don't have a cover charge, and when they do it's often $5 or less.
There's some cheap theater-going possible in CU, but mostly it costs more then the $5. One place to consider is the Parkland College Theater, which offers half-price tickets for the first performance of new shows.
I've already mention the Champaign Downtown Festival of the Arts for the music, but of course it is mainly an art sale, with dozens of booths showing paintings, photographs, sculpture, etc. There was quite a bit of textile art this summer.
Although it's mainly a food event, the Taste of Champaign also has art and craft booths.
If crafts are your thing, the Craft League of Champaign-Urbana has an annual Art Fair that always includes lots of ceramics, baskets, jewelry, woodworking, and so on.
The Champaign-Urbana Spinners and Weavers Guild has an annual show and sale with all sorts of handspun, handknit, handwoven goods--everything from scarves, hats, and mittens to some truly spectacular wearable art. (In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that my wife is a member of the guild and has items for sale most years.)
The Krannert Art Museum has an impressive permanent collection and a steady stream of exhibitions that often feature student and faculty work, but also show work brought in from all over the world.
Much smaller, but especially wonderful, is the Parkland College Art Gallery. It's a particular favorite of ours for various reasons--one of which is that for an annual donation of $50 you can be a "patron" of the Gallery. (It takes a much larger donation to be a patron at Krannert. I'm not sure $50 even makes you a "friend." I think at that level you're considered a "passing acquaintance.")
There are plenty of commercial galleries in CU. Urbana in particular is pushing to create a downtown gallery district, with a package of tax subsidies. The Cinema Gallery and the Heartland Gallery are both great places to enjoy some art.
Classes are a great, cheap form of entertainment. You can study anything--painting, pottery, dance, martial arts, yoga, cooking, bridge, computers, photography, swimming, sports, knitting, starting your own small business.... They're not free, but the per-class cost is often down in the $5 range. There are so many places to take classes of one sort or another, it's hard to list them all. Here are a few of the important ones.
- Champaign Park District
- Urbana Park District
- University YMCA Communiversity
- Urbana Adult Education
- Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (For those 50 and up. Not as cheap as some, but with valuable benefits such as a bus pass.)
Talks, Demonstrations, etc.
There are always free talks you can attend, sponsored by the University, the libraries, the museums, and other organizations.
One that I've attended is the Center for Advanced Studies MillerComm Lecture Series. Talks on everything from prairie restoration to children's books to the Cuban revolution.
The others aren't so handily organized into series--you have to find the sponsoring organization and see what's going on. For example, I attended a demonstration of weaving with a backstrap loom that was held at the Spurlock Museum.
The Champaign Public Library sponsors events of all sorts, and their website is helpfully color-coded so that you can spot the preschool events, kids events, teen events, and adult events.
The Urbana Free Library has an events page as well, of course. (Things seem to have been kind of sparse over the summer, but coming up are book readings and signings, classes, book clubs, etc.)
There is both a Champaign Park District and an Urbana Park District, with numerous parks. Among our favorites are Urbana's Meadowbrook Park, which has a handsome herb garden, a sculpture garden, and a reconstructed prairie, and Kaufman Lake, which just a short walk from our apartment.
Just twenty minutes outside of town is Allerton Park. The Allerton mansion has been turned into a convention and meeting site, but the grounds are open to the public, including sculpture, formal gardens, and hiking trails in the woods. There's an annual Allerton Park Trail Race that costs more than $5, but that leaves 364 days a year that you can run on the trails for free.
There are also some gardens associated with the University. The Arboretum is 160 acres just a few blocks from the center of campus with formal gardens, demonstration gardens, and a Japanese garden.
In addition to the Krannert Art Museum mentioned above, don't miss the Spurlock Mesuem. (I'm especially fond of the Spurlock, which has copies of some of the most famous sculptures in the world--busts of Julius Caeser, Brutus, Nero, the Venus de Milo, etc. To my mind, it's what a museum ought to be--given that the originals can only be in one place at a time.
There are plenty of other small museums. Two nice ones are the Early American Museum at Lake of the Woods Park in Mahomet, Illinois (about 20 minutes away) and the Orpheum Children's Science Museum in a former movie theater in downtown Champaign.
Most of the stuff I've listed is free. Of the things that do have an admission charge, I don't think any of them charge more than $5. Some have a "suggested donation"--but around here it really is a suggestion, and nobody will give you a hard time if you just go in.
One of the best places to find out what's going on in and around Champaign is 40 North | 88 West, a website that lists events with a focus on the arts.
All of the organizations listed above (both park districts, the university, the community college, the museums) all have their own web pages with lists of events, exhibitions, classes, demonstrations, talks, and so on.