Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

Get your culture free in downtown Scottsdale. Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art offers free entry every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Donations are accepted.) Situated in the Scottsdale Civic Center next to some of the city's hottest spots, including AZ88 and the Mondrian, the museum is one of our favorite stops for contemporary art shows. With just a handful of galleries, the museum is totally doable in an hour or two, and your butt won't hurt from all the standing and walking you do at larger museums. You'll have time and cash for cocktails afterward.

Glendale Community College Performing Arts Center

Every few months, the Glendale Community College Percussion Ensemble holds free concerts in the school's cozy and acoustically awesome auditorium. The programs, which take place a few times each semester, are more experimental in scope (think John Cage and Steve Reich), and sometimes stray away from the classical idiom altogether — one gig featured the music of Mr. Bungle, Frank Zappa, and Billy Joel. But no matter what your ears are accustomed to, the group will certainly satisfy in some way. It is one of the largest and best community college programs for percussion music in the country.

Best Way to Hear Phoenix Symphony Members Play on the Cheap

Downtown Chamber Series

Can't afford a night at Symphony Hall? Don't fret, because you can catch Phoenix Symphony musicians performing in intimate venues for only a 10-spot. Concerts, which take place every few months, are performed at various downtown art spaces. This rules, because there's always an awesome art backdrop for the music. The majority of the compositions — which are programmed by the unflappable Mark Dix, a violist with the Phoenix Symphony — cater toward those who love the classical classics, such as Bartók and Bach. The series does mix in contemporary numbers here and there — including the you-totally-missed-out-if-you-weren't-there interpretation of George Crumb's Black Angels for electric string quartet at the Icehouse, which featured amplified instruments for the first time in the series' 10-year history.

Herberger Theater Center

Times are tough, and nobody knows this as well as your local theater companies. Actors Theatre of Phoenix, one of only a handful of professional troupes in the state, wants not only to stay in business, but wants us to be able to afford to see its often marvelous productions at the Herberger Theater Center as well. Toward that end, it's offering season ticket holders a Flex Pass, good for four admissions to any weeknight or Sunday performance of an Actors Theatre show. For about $150, playgoers can enjoy an entire season of professionally produced plays and musicals. What's more, the passes can be used in any combination, at any time, for any of the company's shows (except for A Christmas Carol, which the company presents each December). This must be why they're called flex passes, right?

Biltmore Fashion Park

One of the reasons we make this place home is the fact that we can be outside at night in November and not freeze our butts off. Not only that — we can watch movies under the stars! Biltmore Fashion Park has a complimentary film series, which runs from October through December. Featuring classic titles and holiday favorites, the series is free and open to the public. All films are screened on Friday evenings at 7:30. Grab a blanket or some lawn chairs, pop some popcorn, and get there early to reserve your spot on the grass. Our favorite part is when audience members collectively recite dialogue from well-loved scenes.

Pollack Tempe Cinemas

We love this little theater for its cheap movies, and even more for the free bonus we get when we walk in the door. Dollar-theater lobbies are often some of the sketchier places you'll find in suburban strip malls, filled with broken arcade games and dirtbag teenagers. Not Pollack Tempe Cinemas. Local real estate tycoon Michael Pollack decided to pull out all the stops when he redesigned the lobby of this little theater, outfitting it with a Chuck E. Cheese-style animatronic band, statues of celebrities, and a wax museum of former presidents (Nixon through Clinton) that'll leave you wondering why anyone pays more than $3 for entry to Madame Tussauds. Hell, there are even chandeliers hanging above the impressive collection of Hollywood memorabilia. The next time you're interested in seeing Paul Blart: Mall Cop for the fifth time, drop by Pollack, and plan to have enough time to get your picture taken with the über-creepy Jimmy Carter statue.

There is nothing quite like the feel-good moment of biting into a homemade cupcake, unless it's knowing your sugar rush went to a worthy cause. Bake for Hope organizes weeklong bake sales, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to breast cancer charities. The Phoenix chapter, with only two months of organization this year, sponsored seven sales and raised more than $3,000, catapulting itself to the top slot for sales nationwide. Impressive, considering most items sold for a buck. During this year's local sales — held the week before Mother's Day — we scarfed up "Elvis" cupcakes (peanut butter/chocolate/banana), Bundt cakes, savory herb biscuits, gourmet brownies, and every flavor of cookie imaginable. As the local organizer of Bake for Hope, Julie Zagars, tells buyers, "If it's for charity, that removes all the calories."

There are a ton of geeks around these days, so this one was tough to narrow down, but when you've got a group whose sole reason for existence is an 11-episode TV series that was axed in 2002, well, maybe it's not so tough after all.

These do-gooder space cases reside in a place called the Whedonverse — named for Joss Whedon, creator of the TV hit Buffy the Vampire Slayer and, more to the point, the character-based sci-fi oater Firefly. The original run of Firefly was butchered by Fox (the network ran the episodes out of sequence) and then unceremoniously canceled, but its fanatical followers, called Browncoats after the lead character's signature duster, have kept its memory alive via good deeds.

Arizona's Browncoats chapter meets monthly for "shindigs" at Bookman's (see www.bookmans.com/events) and also hosts regular Firefly-related charitable events.

If you only knew the charitable contributions of the dark side of the force, you'd know precisely why we've picked the Dune Sea Garrison as the best nerds with a cause. The garrison is the Arizona chapter of the 501st Legion, a worldwide organization of Star Wars costume makers who use their movie-accurate bad-guy outfits to walk for multiple sclerosis or bring smiles to Star Wars fans in children's hospitals. Locally, Dune Sea stormtroopers have been popping up at Phoenix Children's Hospital, Challenger Learning Center, and Tucson's UMC hospital. Maybe the Empire isn't all bad.

About a decade ago, a veteran Phoenix sports medicine doc named Paul Steingard started this laudable volunteer program hoping to save the lives of young athletes who, unknowingly, are at risk for sudden cardiac arrest and other potentially dangerous medical conditions. This year, more than 2,000 students — eighth grade through community college — went through the free TOPS screenings, held on a Saturday at a Phoenix high school. The screenings include comprehensive cardiac and other testing, conducted by a cool group of docs, nurses and other healthcare types — physical therapists, physician and nursing assistants, and a slew of osteopathic medical students. The TOPS program quietly has become a must-do for young athletes of all stripes. For this, we thank them.

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