Art lovers from Yale and New Haven came together Thursday night for a celebration of art, music and free food.

The Yale University Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art hosted their third annual Open House last evening. For the first time, the event was held in conjunction with the recently established “First Thursdays on Chapel Street,” a program designed to attract visitors and shoppers through monthly downtown celebrations. Participating shops featured art-related promotions and extended their hours until 9 p.m.

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The majority of visitors were residents of the greater New Haven area, and many of the students at the event were there to provide entertainment as well as to take part in the fun. Eight of Yale’s a cappella groups performed in front of the Yale art galleries, and student guides also offered free tours.

While the galleries’ open houses have been held for several years, this year’s event marked an expanding relationship between the city of New Haven and the University.

“The partnership between Yale museums and the downtown shops is a great example of how the city and the University are working together for the benefit of both the students and the New Haven residents,” said Shana Schneider, communications director for Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs.

Museum administrators said the event offered a chance for different members of Yale and the New Haven community to come together and learn more about art.

“Having so many people in the museum engages the space and creates unique possibilities for conversations around art,” said Christopher Gartrell, an intern in academic affairs for the University Art Gallery who organized the event.

Aside from the New Haven community, the museum administrators also saw the event as a chance to get more students interested in their collections, especially as the new school year was just getting under way.

Amy McDonald, public relations manager for the British Art Center, said the event reflected founder Paul Mellon’s vision for openness.

“Mellon felt strongly that anyone should be able to come in and enjoy the art,” McDonald said.

Coordinators of “First Thursdays” said the museums could attract an even wider audience by way of the collaboration.

“The museums … are jewels in and of themselves to showcase, and being able to combine the museums along with the boutiques and restaurants brings together the best of both worlds,” Schneider said.

And local shopkeepers said they were equally excited about the event.

“Most of the local merchants are very enthused about the people we are bringing in through the ‘First Thursdays’ program,” said Jean Recapet, vice president and general manager of Atticus Bookstore and Cafe. “Merchants say that they have done better because of the event in the past.”

Both students and residents cited the a cappella performances as a major draw for the event.

“The a cappella was a big reason for coming tonight, since there was such an array of groups performing,” Sean Hilton ’11 said.

The town-gown partnership will continue later this fall with a harvest event co-sponsored by the nonprofit group Cityseed and the Yale Sustainable Food Project, Schneider said.