Summer Art Programs in Marfa

by Theresa Bembnister August 31, 2010

The free summer programs for children offered by Ballroom Marfa and the Chinati Foundation make me wish I were a kid again.

The programs involved absolutely no pipe cleaners or Popsicle sticks, and no finger painting. With close assistance from adults, kids used real equipment for detail-oriented and highly skilled activities such as machine sewing and beat mixing. My prediction for next year: welding and pedal-steel guitar.

Chinati Foundation’s Summer Art Classes

In June, more than 50 kids from preschool through junior high attended classes four days a week for three weeks at the former Marfa Ice Plant—a cavernous studio and exhibition space usually reserved for Chinati artists in residence. Local artists and designers taught a curriculum focused on a different project and skill-set each week and culminating in an exhibition tying together the three weeks of lessons.

Local artist and educator Michael Roch designed the curriculum along with Chinati Foundation Education and Public Program Coordinator Ann Marie Nafziger. On a basic level, the two managed to distill Donald Judd’s ideas for Chinati’s permanent installations in a children’s summer program—they provided the young artists with a structure to respond to creatively.

The classes began with trips to Chinati’s John Chamberlain installation and the Judd Foundation’s La Mansana de Chinati/The Block (Judd’s former residence) so the instructors and students could talk about how art, architecture and objects such as furniture work together to create a space, themes that were explored throughout the entire program.

The first week of class students created animated films that were played on old-fashioned movie projectors.


Week 1: Animation 

Local filmmakers David Hollander and Jennifer Lane taught an animation workshop. Students drew on film strips to create colorful, animated abstractions and then learned how to splice the film together to create one long, continuous loop to be run through old-fashioned projectors.

Skills: Drawing and basic film editing

Students filled buckets with cement to create concrete furniture.


Week 2: Furniture 

Long-time Chinati summer art class instructor Michael Roch and volunteer Susan Simmons Reinhardt helped children craft furnishings out of unexpected materials. Kids transformed old encyclopedias (probably the only time they’ve ever used an encyclopedia for anything) and hardback books donated by the Marfa Public Library into chairs. The kids turned wooden palettes into beds, and upside-down buckets of hardened concrete became coffee tables with unusual, organic forms. Kids machine-sewed pillows and added hand-stitched appliqués.

Skills: Sewing, learning what an encyclopedia is good for post-internet

Week 3: Architecture

In the final week of the class, Roch, along with local architect Peter Stanley, discussed concepts like light and space as the kids designed and built structures to serve as movie theaters for the animations they created the first week. The children also made architectural models to further explore their ideas.

Skills: Architectural design, construction

At the closing exhibition, visitors munched on popcorn and sipped lemonade as they lounged on furniture made by students. The animated films created the first week of class were projected in movie theaters designed and built by the students.

The Chinati Foundation summer art class exhibition featured furniture and movie theaters designed and built by students. Photo by Rachel Hillery.


Photo by Rachel Hillery.


Ballroom Marfa’s DJ Summer Camp

From July 19 through 23, Ballroom Marfa brought Austin-based DJ Bigface (real name Javier Arrendondo) to Marfa to teach a weeklong, intensive DJ camp attended by 11 students ranging in age from 6 to 16. Bigface began with history lessons on hip-hop culture and technical explanations of the DJ equipment. After a week of hands-on experimenting under the Bigface’s tutelage, the kids were mixing, scratching and sampling on their own. The class culminated in a showcase where the students showed off their DJ-ing and dancing skills for friends, family and members of the Marfa community.

Bigface teaches a student the basics of DJ-ing during Ballroom Marfa's DJ camp.


Although Ballroom Marfa is primarily noted for its visual art exhibitions, it’s a multidisciplinary cultural arts space with music, film and visual arts programming. With its music focus, Ballroom Marfa’s summer camp complemented long-established visual arts summer programs at the Chinati Foundation and Marfa Studio of Arts. And Ballroom created a program that undeniably appealed to junior and senior high students.

Students check out the turntables during Ballroom Marfa's DJ camp.


“We felt like this would be a great way to engage students of all musical backgrounds and to reach out to teenagers,” says J.D. DiFabbio, Ballroom’s director of development, who oversees the organization’s education programming.

It worked. One student decided to invest in his own DJ equipment, and the high schoolers were invited to perform at the Marfa Lights Festival this weekend. (Unfortunately, the scheduled performance time conflicts with the Marfa High School Shorthorns football game, so the DJs may not be performing after all.) Ballroom plans to hold another DJ camp next summer.

The younger students had a blast dancing during the DJ showcase at the end of the camp.


The high school students were too cool to dance.

Disclosure: I am an intern at the Chinati Foundation (hence the blog title). Although I didn’t help out with Chinati’s summer art classes, I did attend Ballroom’s one-night-only DJ class for adults. My DJ name is Grandmaster Trainwreck.

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