MIDTOWN — "Free" can be a loaded term in our fair city.
Free mattresses come with bed bugs, open bars with time limits, food giveaways with hordes of customers and, in the case of free art shows, just plain bad performances.
In celebration of the TRAC program's 10th year, 14 lucky teenagers are not just spending the next four weeks attending and critiquing free exhibitions, recitals and concerts across the five boroughs — in a program titled "Map Free City," they're also mapping the shows online, providing a priceless tool for New Yorkers seeking arts outings on a budget.
"People often just go to the event — to the theater — then go home," program manager Diane Exavier, 26, said. "But the summer's a really great time to explore different neighborhoods in New York City."
Using an interactive online program called ThingLink, the teens drop pins on a map representing each show they attend, then include their thoughts, photos and critiques, plus links to other upcoming shows.
Spotted now with just a handful of white-and-blue spots, the map will soon grow pocked with dots, as the teens — selected from an applicant pool of more than 60 rising sophomores, juniors and seniors — move through what Exavier described as a "jam-packed" schedule.
The events range from a dance performance by Wally Cardona and Jennifer Lacey at the South Street Seaport to a visit to Brooklyn Grange Farm atop the Brooklyn Navy Yard to a "Sunset Sailing" trip aboard the Staten Island Ferry.
"It's cool. You get to go to these art and music programs all over the city," Daniel Cottes, 17, said. "You get to see music and write about it."
The group took its first trip Wednesday to the performance by Cardona and Lacey on Pier 15. The discussion the following day was enthusiastic.
"When I saw the dance piece, I thought I didn't understand it. I realized I knew more than I thought I did," Cottes said.
Jacqueline Tran, 17, agreed.
"It's interesting to see everybody's interpretations," she said. "Art, especially, it's not just the person's perspective, it's everybody's."