They drew their superhero, created a storyline and a comic book about the character as well as a clay version. Then they placed themselves in the midst of their narrative, donning their homemade capes and masks and some props. The instructors imbued the kids with creativity and vision and they all capped the week off with a hilariously cute musical performance of Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.”
All involved should be commended for creating and participating in such an experience. But the reason I mention it is to marvel at how common an occurrence it is here in Mill Valley, for both kids and adults.
If you want to scratch a long-dormant creative itch, learn an artistic medium outside your comfort zone or find inspiration in something new, you don’t need to leave town to do so. In addition to MV Recreation, the MV Library’s calendar is loaded with writing and poetry workshops and classes at the intersection of the arts and technology.
The Hivery co-working space teems with creativity-centric workshops. The Throckmorton Theatre offers theatre, dance, costume, set design, improv and acting classes, among others, and you can learn from the pros at the acclaimed Marin Theatre Company, which has acting and improv classes for kids and adults as well as summer camps. Italian Street Painting Marin offers teen and pro workshops on that art form. And don’t even get me started on Kiddo!, which remains the driving force behind ensuring that arts education in the MV School District remains second to none.
In addition to those above, here’s a roundup of some of the places that’ll help you explore your own creativity:
When Stuart Schwartz moved his photography business into the 6,000-square-foot ex-General Hardware space in Miller Avenue’s Egger Plaza in 2012, he did so with the appropriate amount of trepidation. But he also knew his sweet spot: resounding quality. That focus spans high-end printing, photo scanning and art reproduction, as well as education, from summer camps for kids and workshops for adults to long-term sessions for serious photographers. Top brands like EO Products and Boon Supply rent the Image Flow’s gorgeous studio for catalog shoots, and Schwartz and his team create deeply immersive trips to places like Cuba and Tuscany, allowing photographers to hone their craft while diving into the culture around them. It also includes explaining what’s possible and what’s not –when it comes to our ubiquitous camera phones. “We’re always reinventing, but what it really comes down to here is quality. Anything we do is going to be the best we can possibly do.” www.theimageflow.com
With one heck of a massive leap in 2016, Louise Dockstader single-handedly brought joy to the local arts and crafts community. When Julie Stanton decided to close her Once Around go-to arts and crafts hub, Dockstader, whose career has spanned marketing for major UK arts institutions and production in TV and video games, leapt at the chance to buy Once Around. In doing so, she kept it as the go-to hub for all sorts of DIY projects, including felting, stamping, sewing, book-binding, fabric-painting, embossing, scrapbooking, decoupage, embroidery, wreath-making – we could go on forever – all while down-sizing the space by more than two-thirds without losing much of anything from the old space. And while Dockstader was seen as a savior of sorts by Mill Valley’s crafty types, her leap also set the stage for related businesses like The Makery, Makers Market and Pollen + Wool to make their way to town. oncearound.com
As a student at Redwood High and later at UC Santa Cruz, Marin native Jennie Dito, at left, dove deeply into ceramics, falling for its therapeutic properties. “It has this great ability to slow you down. You get lost in the material and it just takes you out of your busy schedule.” When her friend Will Hutchinson, co-founder of Proof Lab in Tam Junction, reached out seven years ago to see if she wanted to open a pottery studio in the multi-faceted venture nearby that later grew to include CNL Native Plant Nursery and Studio 4 Art, she gave it a go. Her MV Potter’s Studio, which offers pottery and ceramics classes for adults and kids (one on holiday lanterns is on the way in Dec.) as well as clay summer camps, now also includes Wheelhouse, an artistic hub next to the Dipsea Cafe at which 15 ceramic artists rent space to create pottery. Above, Dito, programs manager Lucy Alexander and operations manager Becca Frantz are joined by Frantz’s latest amazing creation. millvalleypottersstudio.com
In creating her Studio 4 Art spaces in Novato and Tam Junction, Kebby McInroy drew inspiration from within, watching the experiences of her two older children while they were at Tam Valley school and hoping they’d “experience authentic art making.” McInroy, who has a BA in painting from Sonoma State with an emphasis on child
psychology and early childhood education, sought to create a program that went deeper than the art itself. “Ultimately, our studio isn’t about creating artists, it’s about creating leaders. We want to empower young people to gain tools that will help them accomplish their goals throughout life,” she says. McInroy’s space within the aforementioned collective of businesses around Proof Lab is a hub of creativity for children ages 2-7. She also offers programs through MV Recreation’s enrichment program within the Mill Valley School District, as well as family workshops, drop-in studio time, “pARTies” and yearly camps for kids ages 3-12. studio4art.net
Ann and Richard “Dick” O’Hanlon started this non-profit organization, initially called the Sight & Insight Art Center, as a space dedicated to the arts on their bucolic two-acre Cascade Canyon property in 1969. Nearly 50 years and the Vera Schultz Award for lasting contributions to the cultural life of Mill Valley later, facilitators and teachers continue to emphasize process over product, fellowship, and individual growth. Led by co-directors Kellan Christopher and Erma Murphy, O’Hanlon provides programs, studio space, exhibitions and experiences that honor individual creativity, develop artistic practice, and build community. The center also hosts monthly art shows across the full spectrum of mediums, as well as classes for both children and adults in the visual, literary, performing and meditative arts, from creative writing workshops and photography classes to its Art Film Friday series. ohanloncenter.org
If longtime professional ballet dancer and Bay Area ballet instructor Melinda Neal ever needs a reminder of how far she and her family have come, she can look across her Miller Ave. studio as her daughter Leilani, a professional dancer and model in her own right, teaches classes at MCD. Neal gave birth to her daughter at the age of 15, and through determination, vision and unwavering family support, their story is one of unabashed success. In 2018, Neal opened her dance studio, offering classes for both kids and adults as well as private coaching and looking to fill a void for a solely classical ballet-focused conservatory in southern Marin. She did so after serving as the ballet director at Roco Dance’s studios in Tam Junction and Fairfax and doing plenty of private coaching sessions. “The idea of creating my own space – I just couldn’t get it out of my head,” she says. “So I made the leap. I feel like this is my calling.” marinconservatoryofdance.org
In the nine years since longtime Mill Valley resident Annie Thistle launched Performing Arts Academy of Marin (PAAM) in her living room, the academy has grown by leaps and bounds, spanning more mediums, styles and specializations with each passing year. That growth has made the multi-faceted PAAM juggernaut into a vagabond of sorts, as it has moved from space at the Community Church to the Alto Plaza center to the space above the former Balboa Cafe and later to a 6,000-square-foot space at 60 Belvedere Drive just behind Strawberry Village. As PAAM’s student body and faculty continues to grow, so have Thistle’s ambitions. Thistle had been offering acro dance, an athletic style that combines classical dance technique with precision acrobatics, and in 2017, she opened Tumblespot, a 3,000-square-foot hub for kids ages 18 months to 10 years old, in response to demand for more of it. paamarts.com & tumblespot.co
For the past 13 years, Wow! Music Studios on Lomita Drive has drawn rave reviews for its less rigid take on musical education, mixing “school of rock” fun with an individualized approach. That focus, coupled with its founders’ infectious
enthusiasm and sense of humor – co-founder Tommy Toy loves to joke that when he met his future wife, Mill Valley native Emily Siskin-Toy on October 17, 1989, the day of the Loma Prieta earthquake, “the earth literally shook” – has made Wow! a staple for many parents wanting their kids to learn music in that environment. And now more adults are getting in on the act themselves. Toy says that while their numbers of students and teachers has never been higher, adults are seeking that same setting. “That’s always been a dream of ours,” he says. They’re always on the hunt for places for their students to perform live, from Sweetwater’s open mic night to Hopmonk Tavern to the annual MV Winterfest and even concerts in their own parking lot. wowmusicstudios.com
For more than three decades, Jan Pedersen Schiff has established her own take on the “think globally, act locally” mantra. Her Singers Marin organization sends singers to perform everywhere from stages in Australia and Iceland to concert venues across the Bay Area and annually at the Mill Valley Winterfest. Pedersen Schiff, who grew up in a musical household, has helped choral voices of all ages reverberate around the world. After she moved to Marin in 1986, she felt motivated by a lifelong passion. “I just felt like there was a need for choral music here,” she says. She’s made it happen, from her first ensemble, the women’s chorus Wings of Song, to the Twinkling Starlets, ages 4-5 and her honors youth chorus, dubbed les ètoiles, the all-ages youth “stars” that have competed internationally, bringing home gold, silver, and bronze awards from stages around the world. “We’ll never turn down a voice that wants to sing,” she says. singersmarin.org
Like any new venture, Jane Watson’s first year since the launch of her community handcrafting space in a gorgeous, brick-laden space on El Paseo Lane has been full of lessons. Watson’s learned how to further enrich the experience of the people who come in to learn an array of creative pursuits, from sewing and calligraphy to weaving, painting and floral arrangement. “It’s become very clear to me that delivering a wonderful class from a passionate teacher in a lovely environment with food and music is important,” she says. “But if people take time out of their busy lives to learn something new, they’re also seeking a moment to be mindful and intentional about how they’ve chosen to spend their time. They’re not just here to make a dreamcatcher.” The Makery has an extensive lineup of classes for adults, summer camps for kids and a new ArtBar that allows walk-ins for kids to create something “simple, fun and inexpensive” in less than 30 minutes. makerymillvalley.com
Want evidence of how Happy Feet Dance School, which Cece Bechelli opened 40 years ago in the building that now contains Marin Theatre Company on Miller Avenue, has been able to teach myriad dance styles and routines to generation after generation of children over so many years? Just look into the dazzled, wide open eyes of the young children watching Happy Feet’s performances at Winterfest this year, or any number of their showcases around town. Now run by Bechelli and her daughter Caitlin, one of her three children, all of whom “basically grew up at Happy Feet,” the school is located in a large, bowling alley-shaped former auto repair garage on Montford Avenue right off of Miller. Its offerings span, jazz, tap, ballet across a wide range of ages. They held a recital in June to celebrate the 40-year milestone, with dancers of all ages performing, including a group performing everything from Mary Poppins to Michael Jackson. happyfeetmillvalley.com
Second, with plenty of businesses and organizations throughout Mill Valley that are boundless engines of local creativity, we’re highlighting some of our MV Chamber members. They help us keep the lights on, allowing us to focus our efforts on
supporting the more than 375 businesses, nonprofits and individuals in our community that rely on us for marketing and promotion, advocacy, education, beautification, leadership and much more. Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to join us! We can always add you to the digital version of this Winter Guide.
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