free-fun-fridays
By Jenn Smith, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Posted: 05/16/2013 12:14:13 AM EDT
Updated: 05/16/2013 07:45:45 AM EDT

PITTSFIELD — Sixty of the state’s top cultural venues will open their doors and offer free admission to residents and visitors this summer as part of a program called “Free Fun Fridays.”

Six different cultural venues in the state will be open free-of-charge each week on a designated Friday, between June 28 and Aug. 30.

The Boston-based Highland Street Foundation announced the fifth annual Free Fun Fridays program during a press conference call on Tuesday with Massachusetts Secretary of Education Matthew Malone, Joshua Kraft, Nicholas President and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston, Linda Steigleder, president and CEO of Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, as well as Blake Jordan, executive director of the Highland Street Foundation.

Jordan said the fund is investing approximately $650,000 into this year’s program, which is its biggest campaign yet.

“Free Fun Fridays shines a spotlight on the broad and diverse art and cultural offerings across Massachusetts. Whether you live in Boston or the Berkshires, Worcester or Cape Cod, the North Shore or the South Coast, you can take advantage of this free program,” said Jordan.

Nine Berkshire County attractions will participate this year, including program newcomers Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, The Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, and The Mount: Edith Wharton’s Home in Lenox.

Jordan said over the past four summers, the foundation has been “overwhelmed” by positive phone calls, letters and online responses, with many individuals citing they would not be able to visit these institutions otherwise, due to the cost.

In the Berkshires, while many of the above venues offer free and reduced admission prices for youths, add an adult guardian or two to the visit and it can easily be $30 or more, not counting the purchase of lunch or a souvenir.

Kraft and Malone said Free Fun Fridays is a helpful way to keep students engaged in the summer — a time during which research shows student learning tends to slump.

Steigleder said there’s also an economic benefit for venues and communities that host a Free Fun Fridays event.

Hancock Shaker Village, which was a newcomer to the program last summer, received 12,000 visitors for its Free Fun Fridays event. In addition to free admission, the affair included special foods and fanfare across the 750-acre village and working farm.

“That’s five times the normal amount of visitors we get on a Friday in July,” said Steigleder.

She noted half of those visitors were from Massachusetts.

“In that one Friday, the scale got tipped. We saw a lot more people from our home turf,” she said. “Any device we can use that brings people into the area is helpful because they’re going to restaurants, buying gas, buying in stores.”

Free Fun Fridays schedule for Berkshire County

These venues will offer free admission on the following dates:

June 28

Mass MoCA (North Adams)

Tanglewood (Lenox)

July 12

Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival (Becket)

July 19

Hancock Shaker Village (Pittsfield)

Aug. 2

The Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center (Great Barrington)

Aug. 16

Berkshire Museum (Pittsfield)

Aug. 23

Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute (Williamstown)

Aug. 30

Norman Rockwell Museum (Stockbridge)

The Mount: Edith Wharton’s Home (Lenox)

To learn more about the Free Fun Fridays, and the Highland Street Foundation and to see a list of all 60 participating venues, visit www.highlandstreet.org, facebook.com/HighlandStreet or follow on Twitter @HighlandStreet.