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    10 smart things to do at New England colleges and universities

    Colleges offer exceptional and exhilarating experiences to the public, too

    for Travel - 05college - The spring bulb show is always a hit at Smith College's Lyman Conservatory. (Sheri Lyn Peabody /Smith College)
    Sheri Lyn Peabody/Smith College
    The spring bulb show is always a hit at Smith College's Lyman Conservatory.

    In our region, colleges and universities are common. We take for granted that every institution of higher learning looks after the artistic, intellectual, and recreational needs of its students. But many of those same amenities are open to the rest of us, often for free or at a low cost. It’s almost as if they are hiding in plain sight. Here are 10 smart things to do this winter and spring at a college near you. You don’t even have to take notes.

    Hudson Museum, University of Maine at Orono

    A recent renovation netted more display space for the collection of more than 8,000 ethnographic and archeological objects ranging from Precolumbian ceramics to Navajo weavings to Southeast Asian musical instruments. Exhibits in the World Cultures Gallery draw on objects to explore everyday life, rituals, and beliefs across cultures. The museum also devotes an entire gallery to Maine’s Native American tribes. A birchbark canoe and a hide-covered wigwam (constructed in the gallery over a three-day period) will probably be of most interest to children. The museum also works with the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance to preserve and advance traditional basketry. Through April you can see the work of five of the most skilled contemporary basketmakers in the exhibition “Transcending Traditions.’’

    Collins Center for the Arts, 207-581-1901, Mon-Fri 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Sat 11-4. Free.

    Johnson & Wales University, College of Culinary Arts

    If you’re hooked on “Top Chef’’ or “Cupcake Wars,’’ here’s your chance to get away from the television set and into a professional kitchen. In addition to its degree programs in culinary arts, Johnson & Wales offers an ambitious range of recreational cooking classes taught by chef-instructors. Many classes explore ethnic cuisines from Greek to Indian, Mexican to Thai. But you can also sign up for a course in making your own charcuterie (including smoked bacon) or preparing healthy spa foods. Instructors even impart secrets on making restaurant-quality desserts, including a session devoted exclusively to cupcakes. Wear flat, rubber-soled shoes and bring a cloth apron. Cuisinart Culinary Center for Excellence, Harborside campus, Providence, 401-598-2336, $80-$100.

    Dartmouth Skiway


    Opened in December 1956, the Dartmouth Skiway is home to the Dartmouth Ski Team and a number of Dartmouth All-Americans and national champions have plied its slopes. But with about 100 skiable acres spread across two mountains, the Skiway has plenty of room for skiers and boarders who don’t have to return to campus and crack the books after completing their runs. With affordable lift tickets and a welcoming day lodge, the Skiway prides itself on being family-friendly. We love the fact that young-at-heart age 80 and over can ski for free.

    39 Grafton Tpke., Lyme, N.H., 603-795-2143, Daily 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. Adults $23-$43, ages 13-18 $21-$33, 6-12 and seniors $18-28, 5 and under and 80 and over free.

    Lyman Conservatory of the Smith College Botanic Garden

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    A tradition since the early 1900s, the Conservatory’s Spring Bulb Show has given generations of New Englanders a respite from the lingering grip of winter. Dating from the late 19th century, the glass houses contain about 2,500 species of tropical, subtropical, and desert plants in a variety of display areas. The high-humidity Palm House houses coffee and cacao trees as well as banana plants; the Stove House features orchids, bromeliads, and waterlilies; and the Show House concentrates on salvias, mints, geraniums, and other plants with distinctive scents. Even those who can’t tell a Drunkard Agave from a Devil’s Tongue will find the old-fashioned plant houses a soothing, relaxing place. 16 College Lane, Northampton, 413-585-2740, Regular hours daily 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m., Spring Bulb Show March 3-18 daily 10 a.m.-4 p.m. (and 6-8 p.m. on March 9, 16). Donation $1 ($2 during Bulb Show).

    Yale Cabaret

    There’s a different production every week at the Yale Cabaret, a creative outlet for the students at the Yale School of Drama. Youthful passion and braininess create a heady mix, such as this spring’s “Underworld,’’ which uses words and music to retell the Orpheus myth from multiple perspectives, or the dark comedy version of “Dracula’’ by playwright Mac Wellman, complete with songs and puppetry. Performances take place in a tiny black box theater, guaranteeing you will be close to some future stars of stage and screen. 217 Park St., New Haven, 203-432-1566, yale Performances on nine weekends between Jan. 12 and April 12, Thu 8 p.m., Fri-Sat 8, 11 p.m. Doors open 6:30 p.m. for dinner and drinks. Tickets $15, dinner entrees $14-$16.

    Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum

    A model of the research vessel the SS Roosevelt, along with other artifacts being returned to view this spring, hint at the daring and hardships of Bowdoin College alumni and arctic explorers Donald B. MacMillan (1898) and Robert E. Peary (1877). But two new exhibits shine a light on the natural history of the Arctic and the artistry and beliefs of its Inuit inhabitants. Opening in mid-February, “In a State of Becoming’’ displays a fascinating collection of Inuit carvings that depict human-animal transformations. “Animal Allies,’’ which opens in early April, employs prints, contemporary sculptures, and natural history specimens, to take a more straightforward look at Arctic creatures, including polar bears and caribou.

    Hubbard Hall, Bowdoin College campus, Brunswick, Maine, 207-725-3416, www.bowdoin .edu/arctic-museum. Tue-Sat 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun 2-5. Free.

    University of Massachusetts Amherst, Fine Arts Center

    The performing arts programs at the Fine Arts Center cover the world, but with a strong emphasis on America’s homegrown art form, jazz. Over the next several months you can choose from a performance by the company founded by legendary Balanchine ballerina Suzanne Farrell, or by Ballet Hispanico, which creates its own fusion of Latin and classical styles. In addition to concerts of highly athletic traditional Japanese drumming, you can mellow out with jazz trombonists or watch the Ravi Coltrane Quartet follow in the footsteps of Coltrane’s father, saxophone virtuoso John Coltrane.

    151 Presidents Drive, 413-545-2511 or 800-999-UMAS, Non-student tickets $5-$65.

    Bates College Museum of Art


    University museum collections are often as interesting and unpredictable as a scholar’s mind. At Bates, bequests combine with interests of museum staff to create what director Dan Mills calls “quirky, idiosyncratic pockets of strengths.’’ One concentration is Chinese and Chinese-American art, currently exemplified in the exhibition “Xiaoze Xie: Amplified Moments.’’ On view through March 18, the one-man show explores memory, time, and history through paintings, photographs, ink drawings, videos, and installations. Also on view through March 18, “Scenes From the Life of Christ’’ is an ambitious graphic project by Belgian avant-garde artist James Ensor (1860-1949), who followed late-medieval precedents in combining religious themes with carnival humor. By the way, during the academic year, artists are welcome at life drawing sessions every Wednesday evening.

    Olin Arts Center, 75 Russell St., Lewiston, Maine, 207-786-6259, Mon-Sat 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Wed till 7. Free admission, life drawing sessions $7.

    Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology

    Like the Hudson Museum in Maine, Brown University’s museum of anthropology has both a global and a local focus. This semester alone, exhibits feature ceremonial paintings of Taoist deities and traditional and contemporary crafts from indigenous tribes in Taiwan. Closer to home, the exhibition “Customes, Manners & Worships’’ commemorates the 375th anniversary of the founding of Providence with displays of European and Native American artifacts from the early days of Rhode Island. The museum itself occupies a piece of history on the Main Green. Opened in 1834 and modeled on a Doric temple, Manning Hall was the third major building built on campus.

    401-863-2065, Tue-Sat 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Free.

    Ballard Institute & Museum of Puppetry

    Thanks to master puppeteer Frank Ballard, the University of Connecticut has one of the few puppet arts programs in the academic world. Ballard, who founded the program in 1965, died in 2010 at 80, but his creative genius lives on in the institute and museum in Storrs that bear his name. You have to wait until late March to visit and view a fascinating exhibition that traces the roots of Ballard’s artistry from the traveling puppet shows of his youth to global puppet traditions including Javanese rod-puppet theater and Chinese shadow theater. A companion exhibit features Chinese shadow puppets from an early-20th-century collection.

    Weaver Road, 860-486-0339, March 25-mid-December Fri-Sun noon-5 p.m. Donation.

    Patricia Harris and David Lyon can be reached at harris.lyon@