Free Things to Do in Boston, January 2014

Including free days at the MFA, ICA, and MIT Museum. Plus: (drumroll, please) a documentary about dirt.


The MFA will host a free open house on Martin Luther King Jr. Day later this month. (Photo of Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Family Courtyard © Chuck Choi via Museum of Fine Arts)

Family Movie Sundays: The Sword in the Stone

Fun fact about this 1963 animated film: character designer Bill Peet based Merlin on Walt Disney himself—he even has Disney’s nose. Take the kids to the BPL this weekend so that they, like those before them, can learn valuable lessons such as, If you see a sword in a stone, remove it and you’ll become king!

January 5, 2 p.m., Boston Public Library, 700 Boylston St., Boston, 617-536-5400,

Monday Night Film Series: Jim Thorpe: All American

For a more mature movie screening, you can watch Jim Thorpe: All American on Monday. The 1951 biopic stars Burt Lancaster as Thorpe, who won the pentathlon and decathlon in the 1912 Olympics, but was stripped of the titles on a technicality. In 1983, 30 years after Thorpe’s death, the titles were restored by the IOC.

January 6, 6 p.m., Boston Public Library, 700 Boylston St., Boston, 617-536-5400,

Learn to Knit

(For teens.) Learn the basics of constructing scarves, hats, and so on in this three-week program. (If Urban Outfitters can do it, so can you.)

January 8, 15, and 29, 3-4 p.m., Boston Public Library, 700 Boylston St., Boston,

Free Thursday Nights at the ICA

Did you resolve to see more art this year? Well even if you didn’t, maybe you should. Every Thursday night is Free Thursday Night at the ICA, where post-work stragglers and cheap-but-classy date-takers gather to enjoy all that the waterfront institute has to offer. On view this month:

LaToya Ruby Frazier’s Witness
Christina Ramberg

January 9, 16, 23, 30, 5-9 p.m., Institute of Contemporary Art, 100 Northern Ave., Boston, 617-478-3100

Celebrate! Series at the JFK Library: Veronica Robles: El Esplendor de Mexico

Dedicated to providing free performing arts programs for children, the Celebrate! series presents families with a variety of cultural shows. On January 11, Veronica Robles and her Mariachi band will perform traditional Mexican music and dances. ¡Gratis!

January 11, 10:30 a.m., John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Columbia Point, Boston, 617-514-1644,

Monday Night Film Series: Downhill Racer

Get revved up for the Olympics with Downhill Racer starring Robert Redford and Gene Hackman. Cocky skier goes toe-to-toe with his coach. You know the drill. Roger Ebert reviewed the 1969 flick, saying, “the best movie ever made about sports—without really being about sports at all.” Take that as you wish.

January 13, 6 p.m., Boston Public Library, 700 Boylston St., Boston,

African American Heritage Trail Walking Tour

Prior to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Mount Auburn Cemetery will host a walking tour to highlight the burial sites of notable individuals in African American history in Boston.

January 19, 1 p.m., Mount Auburn Cemetery, 580 Mount Auburn St., Cambridge, 617-547-7105,

Open House at the MFA

You can visit the MFA with free admission on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. On top of the MFA’s always-impressive lineup of exhibits, the museum will also host special events throughout the day, including readings, a story hour, and more.

January 20, also free Wednesday nights after 4 p.m., Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave., Boston, 617-267-9300,

MLK Day of Service

Think of Martin Luther King Jr. Day as less holiday, more call to duty to your community. Many Helping Hands 365 invites you to register for their fourth annual MLK Day of Service, where you can make yourself useful by crafting scarves and blankets for those in need, make valentines for veterans and the elderly, and much more.

January 20, 795 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square, Cambridge,

Celebrate! Series at the JFK Library: Benkadi Drum and Dance

Can’t afford an actual trip to Mali? That’s OK. It’s best to sample the culture before such a big investment anyway. Take the kids to the JFK Library on January 20 for a taste with Benkadi Drum and Dance.

January 20, 10:30 a.m., John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Columbia Point, Boston, 617-514-1644,

Free Admission to the MIT Museum

You don’t need to be science-savvy to enjoy a trip to the MIT Museum. And every last Sunday of the month through June, you won’t need a dime either. One of the newer exhibits, 5000 Moving Parts, looks at kinetic art, i.e. things that move unpredictably. And if that’s not your thing, well, no big deal, the museum has robots and holograms and stuff too.

January 26, MIT Museum, Building N51, 265 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-253-5927,

Family Movie Sundays: Brave

If a Disney princess doesn’t spend the entire movie pining for a guy, is she really a Disney princess? The answer is yes. Case in point: the 2012 movie Brave, which introduces young girls to the tough, free-spirited, bow-and-arrow-wielding Princess Merida.

January 26, 2 p.m., Boston Public Library, 700 Boylston St., Boston,

Robert Levin in Recital at Harvard

Concert pianist and professor Robert Levin is retiring this year, and the Department of Music at Harvard even decided to name a prize after him (the “Robert Levin Prize in Musical Performance”). Levin will perform Straccia Vecchia/Sauce 180 by Yehudi Wyner; Träume (“Dreams”) by Hans Peter Türk; Piano Sonata No. 2 by John Harbison; and Preludes by Bernard Rands.

January 26, 3 p.m., Harvard’s Sanders Theatre, Memorial Hall, 45 Quincy St., Cambridge, 617-496-2222,

Monday Night Film Series: Chariots of Fire

Another Olympics movie, 1981 film Chariots of Fire won four Oscars including Best Picture. It tells the story of two athletes of different faiths who represent the British in the 1924 Olympics.

January 27, 6 p.m., Boston Public Library, 700 Boylston St., Boston,

Author Talk with Lawrence DiCara

When busing was first mandated for Boston public schools, DiCara was the youngest person ever elected on City Council. The Dot native and Latin School grad was Council President in 1978, ran for mayor in 1983, and has graduated from and/or taught at several Boston universities. He reflects on the ’70s and ’80s in Turmoil and Transition in Boston: A Political Memoir from the Busing Era.

January 28, 6 p.m., Boston Public Library, 700 Boylston St., Boston,

Food on Film: Symphony of the Soil at the Museum of Science

OK, so dirt doesn’t have the appeal of the Olympics or Disney like other films referenced above. But you know what, science is awesome. We f—ing love science. So if you find yourself yearning to learn later this month, consider checking out Symphony of the Soil at the MOS. Besides, what is it they say about dirt? It don’t hurt.

January 29, 7 p.m., Museum of Science, 1 Science Park, Boston, 617-723-2500,


What have we missed? Let us know in the comments below.