Scenes from the 2019 Milley Awards on Oct. 23, which honored Phil Pastuhov, Lorin Rowan, Bob and Elza Burton and Robert Holmes. Photos by Jim Block.
What began as a celebration of a quintet of 2019 Milley Award winners on Oct. 20 at the Mill Valley Community Center morphed into a series of beautiful odes to inspiration.

Mill Valley City Councilmember Stephanie Moulton-Peters kicked it off. “For me, the Milleys celebrate the creative energy that is uniquely Mill Valley, that manifests itself through the people who live and work here in so many ways, everyday.”

“This takes my breath away,” author and teacher Karen Benke, accepting the award for Literary Arts, told the packed house before thanking a litany of colleagues, friends, family and fellow supporters of the written word – “the list is long and it billows in the breeze,” she said, and Mill Valley Librarian Anji Brenner in particular. 

She then delivered a timely dedication to the art of poetry itself: “Poetry is a works that softens our hearts, and the world needs some soft hearts right now.”

Former Mill Valley Mayor Bob Burton, accepting the award for Contributions to the Arts Community for himself and on behalf of his late wife Elza, noted how bittersweet it was to receive such adulation without the woman who had been with him for their decades of support and leadership at organizations like Marin Theatre Company and the original Sweetwater.

Acclaimed travel photographer Robert Holmes said that while he fed his creative spirit all over the world, being surrounded by “the highest percentage per capita of creative people anywhere in the world” in Mill Valley was the ultimate inspiration. “This is as creative community as there’s ever been.”

Phil Pastuhov, a director of aerial photography on films like Mission Impossible 2 and The Fast & the Furious, shared a similar sentiment about how much he loved coming home after working far afield on a film. “Every time I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and passed through the rainbow tunnel, I felt – and I still feel – a sense of peace and contentment in coming home.”

Not surprisingly, the final honoree of the evening, musician Lorin Rowan, made his case in song, bring up brothers Peter and Chris Rowan for a set of heartwarming music, including “My Father’s Son,” a tribute to a patriarch who imbued the trio with a love of music.

The Milley Awards, Mill Valley’s annual celebration of the community’s vast amount of creative achievement and distinguished accomplishments in the arts, unveiled its 2019 class of winners in July. As usual, the honorees come from a wide array of fields, all providing yet another reminder of the vitality of the local arts and entertainment scene in the 94941. This year’s ceremony, the 24th, was hosted by former ABC-7 personality Don Sanchez.

The Milley Award recipients are selected by a panel of judges from nominations received from the community, based on one or more of three criteria: Outstanding achievement in creating, performing or teaching in the arts; Demonstration of a significant body of work; Service to the arts community. Recipients must have a close association with Mill Valley and were born, educated, worked or lived in the town of Mill Valley or performed a large body of their work  in Mill Valley. This year the judges were Marin Theatre Company Literary Manager/Resident Dramaturg Laura A. Brukner, Marin Theater Company, Seager Gray Gallery co-owner Suzanne Gray, MV Chamber co-director Jim Welte, Mill Valley Librarian Anji Brenner and Throckmorton Theatre sound engineer Edwin DeShazo.

Past Milley Award winners include: Gary Yost, Gini Wilson, Eve Pell, Michael Painter, Betty Goerke, Lisa Kristine, Jimmy Dillon, Jim Lange, Jane Hirshfield, Bill Champlin, Dan Hicks, Paul Liberatore, Si & Max Perkoff, Lucy Mercer, Suki Hill, Kathleen Quinlan, Rob Nilsson, Cyra McFadden, Bob Weir, Pirkle Jones, Scott Mathews, George Duke, Barry Spitz, John Goddard, Lee Sankowich, David Harris, Maria Muldaur, Dart Cherk, Jacques Leslie, Gretchen Mentzer, Mimi Farina, Martin Cruz Smith and Rita Abrams. Organizations and businesses have been honored as well, including the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society, the Mountain Play Association, the Outdoor Art Club, O’Hanlon Center for the Arts and the Depot Bookstore & Café.

Here’s a selection of photos from the 2019 Milley Awards by photographer Jim Block:

And here’s a compendium of tribute videos to the five 2019 Milley Award winners: