is as unassuming as it gets.
But although the founder plays it low key, a quick glance at the star-studded roster of artists and arts organizations that have signed onto her campaign to bolster recognition of the arts within the speaks volumes for her clout.
Mercer and Throckmorton Board President Tammy Edmondson launched a campaign last month (letter at right) to incite City Hall to “embrace the arts as a defining community resource and a key component of any economic development strategy.”
In doing so, they have garnered the support from all of the city’s major arts organizations, from the and the to the and the . They’ve also gotten the backing of an all-star list of local artists, including Robin Williams, Sammy Hagar, Bonnie Raitt, Narada Michael Walden, Dan Hicks, Peter Coyote and Mort Sahl, among many others.
“The arts community here has a lot of love for and trust in Lucy,” said Clare Wasserman, who is Hicks’ wife and manager and whose production company has been putting on events in the Bay Area for decades. “She creates an environment for artists that makes it possible to put on great performances. She takes great care of artists, and that doesn’t go unnoticed. She’s developed a great reputation for doing that over a relatively short period of time. That’s why there are so many names on that list.”
The campaign of Mercer and Edmonson has a number of objectives. In the short-term, they hope to get city officials to create an arts-centric General Plan working group like those focused on Community Vitality, the Natural Environment and Land Use and Mobility.
The campaign has already recruited people interested in being part of such a working group, including Marin Theatre Company Producing Ryan Rilette, Sweetwater General Manager and O’Hanlon Center for the Arts Executive Director Megan Wilkinson.
Whether such a working group gets created remains to be seen.
At the city’s March 24 Community Meeting and in a subsequent interview, City Councilman and General Plan Advisory Committee (GPAC) Chairman Andy Berman said it was indisputable that arts were a major component of Mill Valley, but that an arts-specific working group had not yet been decided upon.
“The arts are critical here – no doubt about it,” Berman said, noting that Mill Valley Art Commission member Lynne Klein is on the Community Vitality working group. “But there are many groups that want a special voice in this process. Unlike the arts, many of them are controversial. We’re not sure which way we’re going to go with this yet, but we’re going to make this work and make arts a key piece to this process.”
That wasn’t exactly the response arts organizations were seeking.
“The defining role of the arts sector in our community cannot be adequately addressed in a secondary sub-committee within the existing 2040 plan structure,” they wrote to the city after the Community Meeting.
“Unlike basic city services such as sewage, roadways, housing and public safety, the arts are a defining community resource much like the natural environment that should not be relegated to subsidiary status,” the letter continued. “Inasmuch as the arts have been overlooked in prior planning efforts, it is particularly important that they receive full consideration.”
In lobbying the city, the arts advocacy campaign has a blueprint for what it seeks: the 2008 Santa Cruz Arts Master Plan (attached at right), which specifically integrates the arts into formal city planning.
Edmonson said that besides arts-specific language in the General Plan, there could be a number of other tangible results of their efforts. That includes specific policies about public art – a subject that was much-discussed with ’s inimitable and ubiquitous murals all over town.
“If you are an arts-loving city and you are approached to do public art events that may engage or support the arts, you’re not looking at these on a piecemeal basis,” Mercer said. “Artistic expression could be supported as an activity and acknowledged as an activity that benefits the local economy.”
It could also include a visible presence for the arts on the city’s website, and promotions of cultural tourism in the form of arts venue-focused visitor maps and signs around town pointing people to arts hubs.
It also means a stronger connection between the Art Commission and City Hall, Edmonson said. Mill Valley Mayor and Art Commissioner John Leonard told the City Council on Jan. 17 that the commission lacks the dedicated staff resources that its brethren enjoy, which puts the burden onto volunteers for all outreach.
“There is a complete lack of integration with city programming and publicity and also with the Parks and Rec department,” Leonard told the council, noting that the art commission was the city’s only commission for which members have to take the minutes. Leonard and City Manager Jim McCann have spoken several times since then and McCann said the commission will receive some additional staff support through the Parks and Rec department later this year.
Edmonson said that’s a step in the right direction but that much more can be done to formally acknowledge the importance of the arts in Mill Valley in such a way that its continued prominence does not rely on personal relationships but instead on codified language in the General Plan, widely regarded as the city’s constitution.
“We really do have a uniquely artistic community here,” Edmonson said. “All of us are very concerned that the character that is uniquely Mill Valley continues. A piece of that is the environment, but another piece is that the town grew up as an arts community, so there is this vibrant, creative feeling here. We want to cultivate that and make sure it never goes away.”