On the first Friday in March, University of Richmond Downtown kept its doors open for three hours beyond its normal schedule, when its four programs offer resources and legal services to Richmond families. On this occasion, UR Downtown welcomed community members as part of First Fridays East, a spring extension of the popular monthly art walk on Broad Street.

Given UR Downtown's community engagement mission, as well as its location in a creative district that continues to grow, this new connection to the arts community is a natural evolution.

"Having folks come into UR Downtown to check out First Fridays events has been a great way to introduce them to the variety of programs and activities here," says Liz Riggs, coordinator of UR Downtown.

Since opening at 626 East Broad Street in 2009, UR Downtown has used its public Wilton Companies Gallery to exhibit artwork connected to its events and programs. Last fall, it displayed a photography exhibit, "Through Different Eyes: The Faces of Poverty in Virginia," in coordination with the Virginia Poverty Law Center. University Museums have also curated exhibits in the gallery.

First Fridays East began in March, when UR Downtown joined neighboring cultural venues such as the Library of Virginia and CenterStage to offer exhibits and performances a few hours earlier than the traditional First Fridays events. That evening, Richmond computer science professor Barry Lawson performed bluegrass music with his band Shake & Howdy.

On the first Friday in April, the University’s Bossa Nova and Samba ensemble performed, followed by The Octaves, an all-male a capella group.

First Fridays East concludes on May 7, when Doctors of Jazz, a band made up of Richmond professors, will play at UR Downtown.

In addition to the performances, UR Downtown is exhibiting work from the University Museums' "Surface Tension: Pattern, Texture, and Rhythm in Art." The exhibition features art by a University of Richmond design class, as well as work by young students from William H. Fox, G.W. Carver, and Overby-Sheppard elementary schools.

"The teachers and the faculty at UR worked with students in the elementary schools to explore this theme of surface tension, which actually is an exploration of how pattern and texture and rhythm generate energy, visual movement, and emotional response," explains Dr. Elizabeth Sheehan, who directs the UR Downtown-based Partners in the Arts program.

UR Downtown's involvement with First Fridays East developed out of conversations between Sheehan and Christina Newton, director of Curated Culture, Inc., who founded the First Fridays Art Walk 10 years ago. Though the monthly First Fridays East is unique to this spring, Riggs says they plan to have occasional events on future first Fridays.

"People are reluctant sometimes to stay downtown," Sheehan says. "Things seem to shut down, but on Friday evenings there is a lot going on here and we want people to enjoy that."

Riggs adds, "[First Fridays East] has been an excellent program to introduce University members and community members to both UR Downtown and the rich cultural experiences the City of Richmond offers."