To outsiders, Boston is known for its colonial history, sports fandom, and unruly population of college students. But for residents, Boston’s growing art scene helps the city hold on to its heritage, as well as supports the constant creative churning that makes it a dynamic place to live. In fact, it was a Wellesley College professor who brought the study of modernism in painting to New York’s Museum of Modern Art. So we all know about the biggies—Boston Ballet, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Boston Symphony Orchestra. They get a lot of column inches devoted to their big-budget projects in all the major publications. But what about cutting-edge creativity? In a city of art schools and some of the finest gallery space around, there is plenty to explore if you know where to look. Here are just a few reasons why contemporary art lovers should grab the bus up to the City on a Hill.

Fort Point Arts Community

FPAC is located in Boston’s newest and hippest district—soaring rents have made the former warehouses of the seaport district appealing to developers, but the art community got there first. Now the warehouses are home to art studios and collectives, and community organizers working on public art projects that can be seen all over the neighborhood. Speaking of public art, the city’s Public Art Walk provides an interactive online map to discover both historic and newer works around town, and hits the nearby Financial District. And right now is the moment to sit up and pay attention—recent successfully shows such as that of Brazilian artists Os Gemeos have inspired a push for more current public art to join the city’s legacy.

The Institute of Contemporary Art

The biggie of this list! The Institute of Contemporary Art moved to its cube-like cantilevered building on the waterfront in 2006, and brings in scores of new fans every week with its free Thursday nights from 5pm until 9pm. And in the summer, there is a full calendar of free concerts on the pier. If you want to get your groove on, this multi-arts center also plays host to monthly dance parties in front of the enormous Fineberg Art Wall in the main entry hall, though those will run you $15 if you’re not a member. The waterfront views and boozy café offerings add to the fun atmosphere at all ICA events.

The Fourth Wall Project

Founded “with a goal of creating more places for punks to loiter, artists to flourish, and more voices to be heard,” this collective brings pop-up art spaces to Boston, with a special emphasis on street artists. After all, this is the same crew that brought the city Bodega, the shoe-and-apparel store hidden inside a, well, bodega.

Boston Art Underground’s pop-up shows

Boston Art Underground is an incredibly vibrant and active organization that promotes artistic exposure all over the city. And they are a hub for local venues that want to organize less formal showings or art outside of traditional galleries (though the Underground provides plenty of gallery information, too). Since these spaces are constantly changing, be sure to check out the site (and it’s awesome interactive gallery finder—just click on your subway line to find a space) when you’re in town.

MassArt Galleries

You’re in a city of schools. The Massachusetts College of Art and Design is one of America’s premier art schools, and its seven gallery spaces are free—even the Bakalar and Paine Galleries, which host professional contemporary pieces full-time. The rest of the gallery spaces show student work, and it’s worth taking a look, just so you can say “you saw-them-when…”