The Outdoor Art Club, a Mill Valley treasure founded in 1902 by 35 women, hosted a Community Celebration on Aug. 21st that drew throngs to celebrate 120 years of history and service in Southern Marin. Wine, beer, and food were served, Passion Flowers donated a gorgeous flower arrangement for the bar and guests enjoyed live music from Austin de Lone and The Wreckless Strangers.
The nonprofit organization is dedicated to the protection and beautification of outdoor spaces, wildlife conservation, and other civic, literary, and charitable work. Its founders were a group of civic-minded women who sought to effect change in their community through advocacy, leadership, and example, and their spirit of activism guides the Club to this day.
The 400-member organization’s good deeds span the history of Mill Valley, including a public event calendar that is chock full of lectures, outings and community service projects. The organization’s leaders took their work seriously from the get-go, establishing its mission to “preserve the natural scenery of Mill Valley and the surrounding country, to beautify the grounds around the public buildings, to work against wanton destruction of birds and game, to encourage the development of outdoor art and to engage in other civic, literary, and charitable work.”
If that sound like a broad mission, consider that “in 1902 Mill Valley was a new town, a tourist destination and a place still without a vision of what it could and should be. The area’s unpaved roads were littered with trash left behind by patrons of ‘The Crookedest Railroad in the World.’ Due to logging, there were few trees, and no library, parks or public health services for its citizens. From the beginning, the OAC’s founding members chose to take an active role in the future development of their town. They formed a women’s club not just as a place to socialize, but also as a vehicle for civic engagement,” according to the OAC’s history records.
In recent years, the OAC’s good works include the revival of the downtown clock tower at the Depot via an $11,000 grant to the Mill Valley Chamber‘s Enjoy Mill Valley Fund, a grant to fund the widely acclaimed Free Movies in the Park series, support for Bay Area artist Colin Selig‘s Asymmetric Art Bench on Miller Ave., Bolinas artist Chuck Oakander’s “Big Wave Bench” in Old Mill Park and a redwood bench at City Hall. In 2017, the OAC funded the 2017 restoration of the plaque honoring Lytton Barber, the first World War I casualty from Mill Valley, in keeping with its mission of beautifying Mill Valley. Much more is on the way.
In April, the OAC published Ladies to the Rescue, a book about the Outdoor Art Club’s founding and its extraordinary influence on the early history of Mill Valley. It is now available for purchase from the club.