NEW YORK - The e-mail from a friend popped into my inbox at 6:25 p.m. on a Friday. “Meeting Matt at the Morgan to see a to-do list exhibit,’’ he wrote. Then I realized the clever reason for the timing of their visit: Every Friday, from 7 to 9 p.m., admission at the Morgan Library & Museum is free.
On Friday evenings in New York, this is not uncommon; a half-dozen or so other well-known museums in town also offer special deals then. What vaults the Morgan into an elite class, bargain-wise, is that these are not the only hours during the week when the public can wander its galleries without having to pay. But in this, too, it has company. Several notable Manhattan museums are free all the time; others waive admission one full day a week.
In fact, it’s perfectly possible to visit one or more museums each day here without paying a cent - and it doesn’t require an enormous amount of planning. Of course, it does help if you consider crisscrossing the city to be an adventure, not a chore. If you’d rather stick to Museum Mile, expect to part with some cash.
But not if you go to the Jewish Museum on a Saturday. Free all day, it’s just up Fifth Avenue from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (admission $18), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (suggested admission $25), and the Frick Collection (admission $18), among others. A museum of art and Jewish culture housed in a converted mansion, it has two floors of galleries showing pieces from the permanent collection and another two featuring special exhibitions. The children’s and interactive exhibitions are closed on Saturdays, as are the shop and cafe. But if you need to add some museum shopping and cafe-going to your day, you can always take a stroll down the avenue. (1109 Fifth Ave. at East 92nd Street. Free Sat. 11 a.m.-5:45 p.m. 212-423-3200, www.thejewishmuseum.org)
One block east of the famed Apollo Theater and one block west of former President Bill Clinton’s office is the Studio Museum in Harlem. It’s so serious about offering free admission on Sundays that the information is emblazoned, huge, on its front windows. Inside, the staff is welcoming, and so is the vibe of this elegant, multilevel space, where the work of young artists shares the galleries with a permanent collection that includes pieces by Romare Bearden, Dawoud Bey, Jacob Lawrence, James VanDerZee, and Carrie Mae Weems. (144 W. 125th St., between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Malcolm X boulevards. Free Sun. noon-6 p.m. 212-864-4500, www.studiomuseum.org)
Way downtown, across the street from Battery Park, is an outpost of the Smithsonian Institution: the National Museum of the American Indian. That you’re in a federal building is unmistakable; portraits of President Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden greet you at the entrance, just before the metal detector. Upstairs, the permanent exhibition, “Infinity of Nations,’’ is an extensive array of art and artifacts, from ancient to contemporary. A hand-sewn figure by Rosalie Paniyak, from 1987, is especially suited to the Lower Manhattan location. Titled “My Love, Lady Liberty,’’ it’s a 2 1/2-foot-tall Statue of Liberty made of sea lion and seal. The flame that shoots from her torch is fur. (1 Bowling Green, at State Street and Battery Place. Free seven days a week, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursdays until 8 p.m. 212-514-3700, www.americanindian.si.edu)
Fresh from a near-death experience, the American Folk Art Museum is no longer the midtown neighbor to the Museum of Modern Art. Having downsized, it’s now headquartered in its former branch near Lincoln Center, a space small enough that trying to get from one gallery to another during one of the free evening concerts can be a little awkward: The musicians are blocking the way. On the walls through December are quilts from the museum’s renowned collection, and seeing them doesn’t cost a thing. (2 Lincoln Square, on Columbus Avenue between West 65th and West 66th streets. Free Tues.-Sat. noon-7:30 p.m., Sundays noon-6 p.m. 212-595-9533, www.folkartmuseum.org)
The Sony Wonder Technology Lab, which bills itself as an “interactive technology and entertainment museum,’’ is funded and operated by Sony Corporation of America. That makes it the odd one out in this lineup. Its four floors of hands-on experiences - aimed at all ages, but particularly the 8-to-14 crowd - let visitors try robots, virtual surgery, music mixing, motion-capture dance booths, and assembling a movie trailer. (550 Madison Avenue at East 56th Street. Free Tues.-Sat. 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., but advance reservations are required. 212-833-8100, www.sonywondertechlab.com)
The Fashion Institute of Technology is part of the State University of New York system, which explains the not-so-subtle government-owned feel of the Museum at FIT - not the exhibitions but the physical plant. On view through Jan. 7 is a show starkly at odds with those surroundings: the clothing of fashion collector Daphne Guinness, including shoes that look like they could have come from “A Clockwork Orange,’’ if “A Clockwork Orange’’ had gone the couture route. (Seventh Avenue at West 27th Street. Free Tues.-Fri. noon-8 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. 212-217-4558, www.fitnyc.edu/museum)
The beginning of the weekend is a bonanza of opportunity for free museum-going. One option is the Bronx Museum of the Arts, which offers free admission all day. But it is relatively small and out of the way - unless you’re catching a game at nearby Yankee Stadium - so it’s a good idea to check the exhibition schedule before going. (1040 Grand Concourse at East 165th Street, Bronx. Free Fri. 11 a.m.-8 p.m. 718-681-6000, www.bronxmuseum.org.) Later in the day, the Morgan Library & Museum offers a vastly different experience: an institution built on financier John Pierpont Morgan’s collection of art, books, manuscripts, and ancient artifacts, including a voluminous array of ancient Near Eastern cylinder seals. His 1906 library, designed by Charles McKim, is the sort of grand but intimate space that elicits from the public a reflexive, awed silence. Visitors enter through an airy 2006 addition by Renzo Piano, which also houses temporary exhibitions. (225 Madison Avenue, between East 36th and East 37th streets. Free Fri. 7-9 p.m.; McKim rooms only are also free Sun. 4-6 p.m. and Tues. 3-5 p.m. 212-685-0008, www.themorgan.org)