Different brushstrokes: alternative artistic experiences in seven great cities

There’s good reason to include big institutional art galleries and museums on your ‘to-see list’ – the offerings are vast, the exhibitions often world-renowned. But what if you’ve seen one too many on your travels, or found that the reverential hush of these honoured establishments doesn’t gel with your holiday buzz? Does refreshing your itinerary mean forfeiting your love of art and culture?

Our Lonely Planet Locals have been on the case, throwing open the doors of their cities to reveal the unsung artistic activities that will re-energise your cultural curiosity, from hands-on workshops and interactive performances to architectural marvels and innovative exhibition spaces. Book a class, hop on a train or simply get walking to discover these seven alternative artistic experiences.

107 Projects' fortnightly 'Art Somewhere' workshop © Rhiannon Hopley

Mingle with makers at 107 Projects, Sydney, Australia

Something of an emblem of urban renewal in the recently regenerated suburb of Redfern, 107 Projects is a hive of art-making and community creativity. Sure, you can stop in to peruse the gallery, performance space, live-music bar or rooftop garden, but it’s far more fun to get your hands dirty. There’s a full calendar of workshops in the likes of glassblowing, life drawing, acting, electronic music, Risograph printing, writing and even spatula carving.

Far from a sterile amateur-arts environment, this is a working creative space well utilised by Sydney’s arts ecosystem. With meeting rooms, artist studios and a construction workshop, the place is crawling with creative types and the air full of cross-pollinating ideas.

Make it happen: Workshops are very reasonably priced, costing around AUD$5-35 for a basic class. Check out the full programme on the 107 Projects website, including times and how to book.

Among her many accolades, Monique Perrin is a keen bushwalker, organic gardener and wannabe songwriter and can sometimes be spotted making art at 107. Follow her tweets @msnettlesoup.

The Philadelphia skyline from the Benjamin Franklin Bridge © f11photo / Shutterstock

Hop on the love train in Philadelphia, USA

Philadelphia’s visitors usually think of public transit as a utility more than an experience. Mural Arts’ Love Letter Train Tour upends that perception, turning a ride on the Market-Frankford Line (known locally as ‘the El’) into a memorable art quest. On weekends, this guided tour passes through West Philadelphia to see artist Steve Powers’ series of murals, A Love Letter For You. Running from 45th St to 63rd St in West Philly, these 50 colourful text-based murals make up one man’s affectionate love letter to a woman. The scale and creativity alone is well worth the price of the tour.

Make it happen: Tickets are $23 (including train fare) and the tour begins at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Journalist Michael Butler has lived in Philadelphia for more than eight years. Follow him on twitter at @mikeviimusic.

Discover your inner artisan with a pottery workshop at Bkerzay © Bkerzay

Sling clay at a traditional pottery workshop, Bkerzay, Lebanon

Winding your way through Lebanon’s forest-clad mountains to Bkerzay is almost as relaxing as feeling wet clay spin under your hands on the pottery wheel at the arts and craft studio of this eco-hotel and health-food restaurant. Run by master potter Ahmad Deif, originally from a tiny oasis in upper Egypt, and Lebanese architect and potter Maha Nasrallah, participants in Bkerzay’s pottery workshops throw together rustic pieces glazed in the traditional artisanal style of the region. A meditative afternoon spent here is enough to offset the glorious chaos of a Beirut city break.

Make it happen: One-hour pottery workshops in Bkerzay’s atelier cost US$25 per person. Workshops are available daily, but must be reserved in advance by calling +961 71 999 422. Bkerzay is an hour’s drive from Beirut; hire a car or take a taxi.

Stephanie d’Arc Taylor is a freelance journalist and social entrepreneur based in Beirut who hopes to someday retire somewhere green and make things with her hands. Follow her on Instagram @zerodarctaylor.

The Pterodactyl building by Eric Owen Moss, the architect of the Hayden Tract complex © Eric Owen Moss Architects

Get cultured in Culver City, Los Angeles, USA

While Hollywood, the Getty and Downtown Los Angeles pull focus, under-the-radar Culver City (population 39,400) might as well be nicknamed Culture City. Browse art galleries and design shops and explore the various creative enterprises (ranging from architecture and interior design to culinary arts and post production) around its Arts District, part of the innovative former Helms Bakery complex.

Particular highlights include the Hayden Tract’s tumbling building-scape, a dystopian dream for modern architecture aficionados, and the Kirk Douglas Theatre, which stages thought-provoking productions by up-and-coming creatives. Then there’s the Museum of Jurassic Technology, which features neither technology nor artefacts from the Jurassic era, but galleries of mind-bending oddities that may make you question the nature of art, museums and reality itself.

Make it happen: Culver City is on the Metro Expo Line for easy-in, easy-out access. Visit the Culver City Arts District website for up-to-date information on exhibitions and how to book specific activities.

Los Angeles-based Andrew Bender is an award-winning travel and food writer. Follow his tweets @wheresandynow.

Vivid street art by Salvador Gonzales Escalona along the Callejon de Hamel in Havana, Cuba © The Visual Explorer / Shutterstock

Hit the streets in Havana, Cuba

Havana may be known for its ubiquitous live music and contagious salsa dancing, but few travellers know of the fantastic murals and underground art scene in Old Havana. Striking street art in vivid colours and sepia tones has gradually taken over those quarters found outside the radar of the restoration projects lead by the Office of the City Historian. Venture into these less-explored neigbourhoods to discover captivating paintings emblazoned on decaying buildings and art galleries flourishing within wrecked colonial mansions.

Undertakings such as the Gallery and Cultural Project at the Galeria Taller Gorria seek to have a social impact too, providing a space that allows local communities and artistic projects to transform one another in a creative way. The concept of ‘open-air museum’ translates not only to the old classic cars rolling in the streets of Havana, but also to the spontaneous workshops that are now booming in forgotten corners.

Make it happen: Take a detour from the picturesque Capitolio area and walk through O’Reilly St up to El Ojo del Ciclón in Villegas St. Keep exploring to the south, and don’t miss a visit to the incredible Galería Taller Gorría.

Diana Rita Cabrera is a Havana-based explorer with a thirst to discover off-the-beaten-path experiences. Follow her on Instagram at @dianaritac.

Outside Thapae East Venue for the Creative Arts in Chiang Mai © Alana Morgan

Catch local musicians at Thapae East, Chiang Mai, Thailand

While many visitors have already heard of the North Gate Jazz Co-Op, a Chiang Mai institution, travellers to the 'Rose of the North' can also find an eclectic mix of music at Thapae East. Located in a hidden complex on Th Tha Pae, this self-named ‘venue for the creative arts’ brings together local and foreign musicians nearly every night. At the small brick bar you can mingle with trendy Thais and the expat crowd while listening to everything from bluegrass to indie rock and snacking on fresh eats from the nearby Mexican restaurant – a unique Chiang Mai experience indeed!

Make it happen: Before you go, check the Thapae East Facebook Page for the week’s line-up. Typically you’ll find musicians playing nightly except for Sundays when the complex is closed. Entry is free.

Alana Morgan has been based in Chiang Mai for the past seven years. She shares personal experiences and insider tips on her travel blog Paper Planes. You can also follow her on Instagram @paperplanesblog.

Dancers compete in 'The Beautiful Street' freestyle dance battle at the 16th annual TBA Festival in 2018 © Amy Conway / Courtesy of Portland Institute for Contemporary Art

Peruse a festival of performance art in Portland, Oregon, USA

Run by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, the annual TBA Festival (Time-Based Arts Festival) is a multidisciplinary mashup of experimental theatre, dance, poetry, music, lectures, performance art, cinema, painting and just about everything in between. Held over 10 days in September, the festival takes place in different venues all across town. It brings in high-profile artists from around the world, as well as drawing attention to some of Portland’s rising stars.

You might see a spoken-word event in a church one night, an interactive play the next, and on the next, a meditation on art and race that plays out over a three-mile walk. Whatever it is, it’s never predictable.

Make it happen: Tickets cost $16-20, but many shows operate on a sliding scale. Reservations are required for most shows. Get tickets or a festival pass ($200-500) in advance at TBA Festival: PICA.

Becky is a freelance writer, editor and critic based in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Instagram @fasterbecky.

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