For weeks, Barbara Golden and Deborah Oswalt tried to see two of Vincent van Gogh’s most famous paintings, which were on display at the Yale University Art Gallery for the summer. But every time they tried, they were turned away because of the crowds.

Last night, the two friends, who are New Haven residents, got that chance at the fourth-annual open house held by the gallery and its partner across the street, the Yale Center for British Art. And that was exactly what the planners of the event wanted. An estimated crowd of more than 1,000 Yalies and city locals enjoyed refreshments, a cappella and gallery collections and exhibitions — including “The Starry Night,” on loan from the Museum of Modern Art, and “Cypresses,” from the Metropolitan Museum of Art — during the event, organizers said.

Yale’s galleries reached out to people across the Elm City, circulating flyers in English and Spanish to publicize the event. Officials made concerted efforts to attract members of the extended New Haven community with a campaign that included an ad aimed at Facebook’s entire Connecticut network, British Art Center Public Relations Coordinator Ricardo Sandoval ’06 said.

“You can think of [the British Art Center] as the museum version of a community center,” Sandoval said.

Attendees received abbreviated tours of the galleries, heard performances by eight a cappella groups and chatted with staff members about the museums. Museum Educator Aja Armey said the event was also helpful in recruiting students who want to become gallery guides or work with the museum.

“We want to embrace the Yale community every fall, but being a city museum, we also get the added benefit of being able to also reach out to our broader community,” she said.

Guides like Bobby Liles ’11, who gave an abbreviated version of his Angles on Art tour about the modern body, were on hand to answer questions.

Some students like Derrick Ashong ’10 came, like Golden and Oswalt, specifically to see van Gogh’s “The Starry Night.”

“My friends and I decided it would be a good time to delve into art,” he said.

The event was held on the same day as Chapel Street’s First Thursday, during which shops are open later than usual. Jennifer Ramos ’10, who was working the table in front of the British Art Center, said many people walked into the event curious about what was going on.

“There’s been a lot of people walking by and, just by seeing the [a cappella] performances, have become interested in seeing the gallery,” said Ramos, who works in the public relations and marketing department of the gallery.

New Haven resident Muriel Curry heard about the event at the Thursday-morning community breakfast Yale hosts once a month.

Curry said the event was “so-so” until the Duke’s Men “jazzed it up a bit.”

“We call it an open house because it is literally open to the entire community that surrounds the gallery,” Armey said. “That’s the Yale community, the New Haven public. New incoming students love it — freshmen can come in and right away get in and feel like the gallery is a second home for them.”

“The Starry Night” and “Cypresses” will leave New Haven next week.