Outside of Mill Valley’s usual tentpole events throughout the year, the rhythms of the Depot Plaza on an average day stretches from the morning coffee klatsch to workers enjoying a midday lunch to afternoon scootering of little ones.

For myriad reasons, that rhythm is markedly different now. It might have something to do with the fact that COVID-19 crisis has us pining to check out the downtown street closures, eat some delicious food and hear some impromptu live music. But it also might be that everyone in Mill Valley’s rich artistic community are craving expression and inspiration, from its creators to its consumers.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen the arrival of a group project, led by artist Zoe Fry, that features a trio of free-standing doors in the Depot Plaza as a way to promote racial justice, with each door built around a timeline of racial inequity and systemic racism. The first door focuses on decades of historic racism in Southern Marin, with the second highlighting the BIPOC community’s experienced with racism in present-day Marin. The third door seeks to chart a path to racially equitable future.

The back side of each door is designed to spur community interaction, serving as a community message board of sorts that allows people to answer the questions posed by the imaged on the front doors. Here’s the project:

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A community art project led by artist Zoe Fry on the Depot Plaza focuses on the past, present and future of racial equity in southern Marin.

Picture“Heroes” by Wesley Cabral.

Some impromptu art projects have also emerged on the plaza, including a painting from Wesley Cabral called “Heroes” and featuring the visages of the late Black civil rights leader John Lewis and Black movie star Chadwick Boseman on plywood board in the Depot Plaza. City officials determined that the painting could not stay on the plaza because it did not go through Arts Commission protocols, but Paul Lazzareschi, owner of the Depot Bookstore & Cafe on the plaza, allowed Cabral to put the piece behind a construction fence at the Depot.

“It’s a free country,” Lazzareschi told the Marin IJ. “I think he didn’t go through the right channels…but because of what’s happening in our world people are expressing themselves and I thought it is a cool expression. I don’t want to alienate anyone. I’m a free speech guy. … It’s a beautiful painting, it’s an amazing painting — unbelievable.”


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Scenes from MVFAF: Beyond the Park Sept. 18-20. Images courtesy MVFAF.

Then there was the glass-half-full bunch behind the Mill Valley Fall Arts Festival, who were unable are to hold the 64th edition of the event over the weekend of Sept. 18-20 but pivoted to put that artistry out into the Mill Valley community. “MVFAF: Beyond the Park” took the work of 16 artists and put it into the storefronts of downtown Mill Valley merchants.

​”Harking back to the founding of the Mill Valley Fall Arts Festival 64 years ago, we had 16 local artists displaying their work in select downtown store windows leading up to and during the event,” says Steve Bajor, the festival’s executive director.

To enhance the beauty of the downtown Plaza and evoke the feeling of the festival, the Fall Arts Festival committee and board members created hand-made chimes, mobiles and hanging sculptures to adorn the Downtown Plaza. The iconic lanterns people love and associate with the festival were also hung in the plaza to bring an artful glow in the evenings.  
 
“In all, the art in merchant windows, hanging embellishments and lights in the plaza was a promise of the return of the wonderful and beloved “in-person” community event we all anticipate and enjoy every fall,” Bajor says.

This blossoming of art all over the plaza continues into early October as the Arts Commission and Kiddo! launch a public art project on the plaza in an effort to create public art that brings the community together. The project, dubbed “Knitting Us Together,” will have artists of all ages creating knit or crocheted patches of yarn and flowers and temporarily covering some of the trees in the plaza with those urban knitting pieces.

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