As Amherst students, we’re pretty spoiled with theater, dance and music performances, art exhibits and cultural activities. With the Mead Art Museum, regular shows put on by our on-campus a capella groups, and various other arts events, sometimes it seems that there’s little need to leave the College to get a culture fix. Though supporting on-campus groups by attending their concerts and recitals is great, sometimes escaping the Amherst bubble seems necessary and a change of pace feels sorely needed. Luckily, the Pioneer Valley is ripe with venues to see high-quality music and theatre. In Amherst, Northampton and surrounding communities, entertainment opportunities abound.
If you’re stuck without a car and don’t feel like dealing with the PVTA, the town of Amherst features lots of cultural activities within walking distance from campus. Amherst Cinema, located behind Amherst Coffee and GoBerry, boasts three screens that mainly play independent features and classic films. The movies you’ll find here are a little different than what usually screens at the multiplex on Route 9. If you’re looking for something a little more intellectually stimulating than the latest Hollywood blockbuster Amherst Cinema can fulfill your needs. It also subscribes to the National Theatre in London’s “National Theatre Live” series, meaning that sold-out performances of popular plays and ballets are broadcasted live from England to cinemagoers in Amherst. Ticket prices here are lower than those charged at the Hampshire Mall cinema, and the programming is a lot more unique, making it a great choice for a Saturday afternoon spent off-campus. This week at Amherst Cinema, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The Wind Rises” and “Tim’s Vermeer” are playing. Evening showings cost $7.75 with a valid student ID, matinees $6.75.
If movies aren’t your thing, there’s also the Amherst Art Walk, a free event held on the first Thursday of each month. These monthly Art Walks promote local artists, engage students and residents with the town’s art community and celebrate Amherst’s small businesses. During an Art Walk, participating venues are open from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. to display the creative work of local artists. These “open houses” — at locations as varied as Gallery A3 on Amity Street, the Burnett Gallery in the Jones Library and High Horse Brewery — are often accompanied by live music, lectures or demonstrations.
Northampton is a short distance away, and access to it opens up an entirely new set of entertainment options. This community is renowned as an arts and culture hub in Western Massachusetts, so finding something to do won’t be difficult if you’re in the mood to see a play, a comedy act or music.
The Northampton Academy of Music should be on any theater lover’s list of destinations. It has served as a performance venue since 1891. Today, it’s home to the Pioneer Valley Ballet and the Pioneer Valley Symphony, as well as theater troupe Old Deerfield Productions. The Academy of Music also hosts the productions of local youth performance groups. On March 29th and 30th, The Pioneer Valley Ballet will present “Beauty and the Beast.”
The Iron Horse Music Hall, the Calvin Theatre, The Basement and Pearl Street serve as venues for musical acts, comedians and speakers of varying fame. Tickets to these sorts of events can be a bit pricier than the opportunities previously mentioned, but totally worth it, especially if a performer you like happens to make the trek to Western Massachusetts. For example, best-selling author and humorist David Sedaris paid a visit to the Calvin Theatre this past year to speak to sold-out audiences. In April, Feist will play at the Calvin, along with other musical acts. Comedian Brian Regan will also perform on April 13. Tickets for these events range in price from approximately $25 to $50.
In terms of other cultural offerings, Northampton boasts a multitude of art galleries and museums. The Presidential Library and Museum of Calvin Coolidge is located in town, as well as the Historic Northampton Museum and the Smith College Museum of Art. A varied selection of photography, jewelry and craft galleries exist in the area, too. These are, in general, free of charge to enter.
If you’re interested in venturing further into the Pioneer Valley, there are museums to be visited and events to attend aside from the ones previously mentioned. The Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke is a historic family estate with lush gardens to explore and a permanent collection of art and historical papers. Even Chicopee, Easthampton, Hadley and Florence — all within driving distance from campus and doable for a day trip — feature art galleries and museums of interest to creative-minded college students. Valleyartsnewsletter.com and Artspioneervalley.com are great resources for keeping up-to-date about arts offerings in the Western Massachusetts region. Those who seek out entertainment opportunities and cultural events outside the Amherst campus won’t be disappointed; the arts scene in the area is vibrant, thriving and most of all, affordable.