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First Thursdays event brings joy, ‘some sizzle’ to community

UCLA students perform on the stage at May’s edition of First Thursdays. (Sitara Lewis/Daily Bruin)

By Eva Danesh and Jonah Danesh

May 8, 2023 6:52 p.m.

The streets of Westwood were filled with joy Thursday as hundreds of Bruins and Westwood community members arrived on Broxton Avenue for May’s First Thursdays block party celebration.

During the evening event titled “Joy Fest,” attendees engaged in a variety of activities, including squeegee art, a scavenger hunt and personalized portrait paintings.

The monthly First Thursdays event series, organized by the Westwood Village Improvement Association and UCLA, began in March 2022 with the goal of strengthening ties between the university and the surrounding neighborhood.

Chancellor Gene Block also attended the celebration and said he was happy to see so many people out in Westwood.

“Post-COVID, students want to be out, and we’re very excited about bringing our students and the community together,” Block said. “We really want to revitalize Westwood, and this is really helping.”

[Related: ​​Westwood celebrates community through inaugural First Thursdays event]

Block added that the connection between UCLA and the Westwood neighborhood is invaluable.

“This is where we live. It’s really important that Westwood be vibrant and exciting for our students and for others to live in the area,” Block said. “Our being here just lends enthusiasm and some sizzle to the whole community.”

(Sitara Lewis/Daily Bruin)
Students and community members create beaded bracelets at a booth. (Sitara Lewis/Daily Bruin)

Throughout the evening, a variety of acts performed on a built stage, including performers slated to compete in this month’s Spring Sing, UCLA’s annual student showcase of music, dance and sketch comedy.

Mariachi de Uclatlán, a student group dedicated to the performance of traditional Mexican music, will perform at Spring Sing on May 19 and give the community a preview on the First Thursdays stage.

Saveena Patel, Mariachi de Uclatlán’s associate student director, said she is proud to have performed in Westwood, adding that showing her UCLA pride while honoring Mexican culture was a special experience for her group.

Patel, a fourth-year ethnomusicology student, said she accidentally stumbled upon mariachi music and has since cultivated a deep appreciation for it, especially as a South Asian who gets to honor Mexican culture from an outside perspective.

“It’s such powerful music,” Patel said. “I feel so thankful to be able to play and honor the culture with this community and get to work with so many other talented musicians and share this passion for great music.”

Patel said the First Thursdays event lived up to its name, adding that she enjoyed being able to interact with the community on a different level.

(Sitara Lewis/Daily Bruin)
Students perform on the “Joy Fest” stage during the First Thursdays block party. (Sitara Lewis/Daily Bruin)

This month’s event also featured a number of odes to last month’s First Thursdays, which was themed “Arts Avenue.”

At April’s event, event organizers prompted attendees to draw something that sparked joy in their lives. More than one hundred of those doodles were integrated into this month’s “Mosaic of Joy.” The drawings – some of which included bumblebees, Bruin bears and hearts – were displayed across the entire stage backdrop, said Jessica Wolf, UCLA director of arts communications and marketing.

The top 10 doodles were hidden throughout the event and on Broxton Avenue for a scavenger hunt, Wolf added. Attendees who snapped selfies with at least six were awarded a prize.

“It’s just a fun way to hang out and spend your time here,” Wolf said.

Chancellor Block said he is glad to see this event series continue to connect Bruins to the Westwood community.

“It’s great to see so many people coming out and enjoying the festivities,” Block said. “These events really showcase the best of UCLA and bring us all together in a spirit of community and celebration.”

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