At top left and bottom right, Bolinas artist Chuck Oakander’s “Big Wave Bench” in Old Mill Park. At top right and bottom left, Colin Selig’s Asymmetric Art Bench at the corner of Miller and Evergreen Avenues. Courtesy images.

In many communities, the creation and implementation of a public art program can be a bit of a minefield.

As author E.A. Bucchianeri said, “Art is in the eye of the beholder, and everyone will have their own interpretation.”

So it was with great excitement that Mill Valley Arts & Recreation Director Jenny Rogers and Mill Valley Arts Commission Sharon Valentino delivered their annual report this week on the heels of the installation of not one, but two – and soon-to-be three – Art Benches in Mill Valley, the first foray of many to come for outdoor public art programs in Mill Valley. The City’s new public art program is called Art in Public Places.

“Public art programs can be very fraught and yet you guys have navigated it very well,” City Councilmember Sashi McEntee told the pair at a March 28th meeting.

The first installation arrived earlier this month in the form of Big Wave Bench, the creation of longtime of Bolinas artist and arborist-turned sculptor Chuck Oakander, who has a passion for making functional, fun benches and sculptures from tree trunks.

The arrival of Big Wave Bench came courtesy a successful grant proposal from the Mill Valley Chamber‘s Enjoy Mill Valley Fund to the Outdoor Art Club. Oakander’s bench has been installed in Old Mill Park, just opposite the Old Mill ( see top left and bottom right in image above).

And then on Monday, March 18, City workers installed acclaimed Bay Area artist Colin Selig‘s Asymmetric Art Bench at the corner of Miller and Evergreen Avenues – just across from Whole Foods Miller, on property owned by Mill Valley Refuse principal Jim Iavarone. Selig, who studied metal sculpting at The School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, creates public art from recycled propane tanks, exploring the boundary between sculpture and sustainable design. Selig’s artwork can be found throughout the United States. Iavarone, the Chamber and Whole Foods supported this effort.

“Art Benches are intended to provide a peaceful, aesthetically pleasing and restful place to enjoy the natural surroundings in Mill Valley,” Valentino says, noting that the artwork that was selected, on the heels of a call for public art from artists in 2018, prioritizes beautiful organic design and benches made from environmentally sustainable and reclaimed materials.

During their presentation, Rogers and Valentino revealed that a third bench, this one also created by Selig and also funded by the Chamber’s Enjoy Mill Valley Fund, will be installed in the coming days outside of Pilates ProWorks at 360 Miller Avenue. The mid-century modern bench will be sky blue, Rogers says.

“We are so thrilled and grateful for your support,” Rogers told the Council. “We hope that everyone in our community gets a chance to enjoy these wonderful benches.”

The City is planning commemorative events for each bench, Rogers says. Each bench will have a QR code allowing people to learn more about the art and the artist, Valentino says.

The benches are the first of an array of new public art on the way. The commission currently has a call to artists for painting public utility boxes around town. That work will likely occur in April and May, to be followed by a sculpture program in the spring and summer months. An outdoor ping pong adorned with a mural is on the way this summer as well.


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