Ugly Truth: All the Non-Profits in Marfa Haven’t Really Helped Anybody

Ugly Truth: All the Non-Profits in Marfa Haven’t Really Helped Anybody


All of the non-profits in Marfa (particularly the cultural ones) have done nothing but give art-world functionaries internships and overpaid jobs. It’s a fun way to give your university friends a job and to fuck off that gigantic estate that your industrialist father left to you (ah, upper class guilt). BUT IT DOESN’T REALLY IMPACT LIFE OUT HERE.

Rural West Texans don’t desperately need haiku workshops or experimental theatre. WE DESPERATELY NEED JOBS, AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE AND BETTER EDUCATION AND JOB TRAINING FOR OUR CHILDREN.


In his excellent book Africa Doesn’t Matter Giles Barton, a british-born relief worker and diplomat, demonstrates how charitable NGOs have spent billions of dollars in sub-Saharan Africa without impacting the everyday lives of the people they are trying to help.

The same forces (oddly enough) are keeping do-gooders from Houston and Dallas from effectively helping the people of Marfa. Here are some of his biggest points about the failure of large NGOs:

* Being dependent on the good will of donors, few relief agencies give objective reports on the effectiveness of the programs they run. Donors are more concerned with giving rather than with the effectiveness of their gifts. To many, it seems uncharitable to ask what good a program is doing. The dual effects invariably lead to lack of accountability. In this vein, how many individual citizens of Marfa attend Ballroom Marfa programs? I’m guessing its the same 300 people time after time.
* Aid must come in a form that works for the recipients rather than a program designed by well intentioned program developers thousands of miles away. The cultural centers of America think we need poetry and theatre to spice up our dull Texas lives. They are oblivious to our own home-grown folk culture and expression. They push the modernism of the last century on us when we want to play country music and skateboard.
* Much of public aid is tied to developed nations own exports — grain & medical supplies, for example — and to paying the salaries and benefits of the administrators of the program. Bolton estimates that over 80% of public aid is “diverted” to recipients in the western developed countries. Similarly, local people are never hired by these charities. It’s folks from Dallas, Houston, San Francisco and New York.
* The core problem is unemployment. Africans spend many hours walking to town to find work, not to go to work. When they find work, it is often temporary, and low paying. It is the lack of industry (not unwillingness to work) that is killing much of Sub-Saharan Africa. Similarly, if these charities trained local west Texans to do handicrafts or stretch canvas, it would help the art scene and provide jobs and goodwill.

Chinati is a parasite; it’s a non-profit that doesn’t pay taxes on its local fundraising. It doesn’t pay taxes on the millions of dollars of appreciation on the art they own. They are powerful freeloaders who give an occasional art class to children and think they are saints. They exploit the landscape of the area but all of its high ranking officials are from out of town. It is preserving Donald Judd’s legacy while failing to enrich or improve the community he fell in love with.

Even worse, the abject poverty of its poorest citizens is the ‘quaintness’ of Marfa that appeals to the Bohemian Bourgeoisie that flock here from Brooklyn and Portland.

Shit is fucked up, people. The average citizen of Marfa has to have several part-time jobs to make ends meet. There’s a housing crisis that gets worse and worse year after year. Folks can’t afford medical care or child care. I bet union jobs make up less than five percent of the meagre job market.

Hey, but there’s a dance party at the art space.