Headlands Center for the Arts – Mill Valley, California - Atlas Obscura
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Mill Valley, California

Headlands Center for the Arts

Internationally-recognized arts center housed in a century-old former military barracks. 

Tucked into the coastal wilderness of the Marin Headlands, historic military buildings house what is now the Headlands Center for the Arts. This is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, just under the Golden Gate Bridge in the Bay Area.

After ownership of the former military property was transferred to the National Park Service (the army withdrew in 1972), the Golden Gate National Recreation Area conceived of Headlands through a planning process that engaged a number of nonprofit organizations and friends of the park meant to determine how best to restore the buildings and develop programs for the public. Incorporated in 1982 by a founding Board of Directors consisting almost exclusively of local artists and activists, Headlands secured a long-term agreement to use the facilities in 1994.

Headlands’ internationally-recognized Artist in Residence program and public programs offer opportunities for artist dialogue, exchange, and research meant to build appreciation and understanding for the role of art in society. Since its founding, Headlands has granted commissions to some of America’s most well-known artists, including Bruce Tomb, John Randolph, Ann Hamilton, and David Ireland. In 1998, artist Leonard Hunter and architect Mark Cavegnero oversaw the award-winning rehabilitation of a 1907 Army storage depot, which is now home to Headlands’ Affiliate Artist program studios.

The other structures at Headlands include residency studios, offices, and public rooms spread throughout nine 1907-era military buildings that feature two four-story army barracks, large windows, oak balustrades, maple floors, 13-foot ceilings, and redwood wainscoting.

Live-in artists (Headlands offers programs of varying lengths, ranging from one month to six) share houses once used by military officers. Fully-furnished, they each include two bathrooms, four bedrooms, formal dining and living spaces and a fully-equipped kitchen. Artists are also given work spaces.

Know Before You Go

Headlands is reachable by bus from San Francisco on Sundays, when the MUNI 76 operates in the Marin Headlands. If you have a bicycle, you can either take the beautiful scenic ride all the way across the Golden Gate Bridge, or take your bike on the Sausalito Ferry or on the bus using Golden Gate Transit.