If you live in Mill Valley, there’s a good chance your neighbor is an artist. In fact, the town is teeming with creative people, and for over 30 years, the Mill Valley Arts Commission has shone a spotlight on these people.The annual Milley Awards, presented on Sunday, Oct. 20, at the Mill Valley Community Center, honor five individuals in various artistic disciplines who’ve made Mill Valley a better place to live.
Members of the community nominate, and a panel of judges selected, this year’s recipients—all of whom are associated with the arts scene in Mill Valley.
First up, the Literary Arts category winner is author and educator Karen Benke, who is the author of a poetry collection and four creative writing adventure books for the young and young-at-heart to explore and expand their imaginations. Benke is also a frequent collaborator with statewide nonprofit organization California Poet in the Schools, which leads classroom workshops that aim to empower students with creative writing and performing. Locally, Benke leads writing workshops at the Writer’s Nest in the renovated Mill Valley Lumber Yard. Benke’s work has also gone international, with her books translated into Chinese, Russian, Korean and soon Italian.
In the category of visual arts and design, the Milley Award goes to Robert Holmes, the famed photographer who’s made his home in Mill Valley for 40 years. The British-born Holmes began his career covering the 1975 British Everest Expedition for the London Daily Mail. The following year, he received an invitation from Ansel Adams to visit California. He ended up settling in Mill Valley in 1979. His work as a travel photographer is world-renowned, with publications from National Geographic to Life having published his work. His own, award-winning photography books include travel, food and wine photography.
Longtime Mill Valley resident and Academy Award–winner Phil Pastuhov is this year’s Milley Award recipient for Performing and Film Arts. Pastuhov is a director of aerial photography who specializes in drone-powered camera work. He’s worked on over 120 films and just as many commercials during his life. Any time the camera flies over a car in The Fast & the Furious or scans a mountainside in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, that’s Pastuhov shooting the scene with a drone. When he’s not making movies, Pastuhov leads small drone-flying workshops at locales like the Utah plains and Norway’s islands.
Singer-songwriter Lorin Rowan, this year’s recipient of the Milley Award for Musical Arts, is one of Mill Valley’s most recognizable figures, and one of the town’s most prolific artists. His time in Mill Valley dates back to the early ‘70s, when he and brother Chris played music with the likes of David Grisman and Jerry Garcia before they signed to Columbia Records as the Rowans and began releasing country-rock albums. In the ‘80s, Rowan turned his attention to the burgeoning ska/reggae scene with his band the Edge, and for the last 30 years he’s released music under his own name and with projects like Deep Blue Jam, a fusion of bluegrass, rock and funk. He also plays with Rattlebox and continues to collaborate with Chris in the Rowan Brothers.
Locally, Rowan is a beloved presence at many benefits and fundraisers, appearing at the annual Wine, Women & Song breast cancer benefit and Blue Star Music Camp events.
Last but not least, the Milleys are honoring Bob Burton and his wife, the late Elza Burton, in the category of Contributions to the Arts Community. Best known as a founding member of the Mill Valley Center for the Performing Arts (now Marin Theatre Company), Elza served on its initial Board of Directors. Bob’s contributions include supporting many artistic endeavors—including helping approve plans for the original Sweetwater venue back in the ‘70s—during his time working on the Mill Valley Planning Commission and City Council, which included two years as Mayor. Together, the Burtons were patrons and supporters of the Marin Symphony, the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society and many other organizations, and their contributions to Mill Valley span over half a century.
For its part, the 2019 Milley Awards has contributed to the arts scene for 31 years now. Mill Valley Arts Commissioner Abby Wasserman originally founded it as the Mill Valley Awards for Creative Achievement in 1988. For the first several years, it only honored one recipient each year, beginning with Ann O’Hanlon, founder of Sight & Insight Art Center (now the O’Hanlon Center for the Arts).
The awards expanded in 1994 to accommodate the multidisciplinary artists living and working in Mill Valley, and became known as “The Milley.”
To date, over 150 individuals have been given a Milley, and this year’s lineup of recipients is another fine example of the overflowing creative energy that gives Mill Valley its artistic spirit.