Ed note: The poet and writer Eileen Myles, who lives in Marfa and New York City, wrote this letter to Mack Fowler, Chairman of the Board at Chinati, and Jenny Moore, its Director. The letter appears in the Big Bend Sentinel, and Myles sent it to Glasstire for publication.
May 18 2020
Dear Mack Fowler & Jenny Moore,
I’m writing you today as a concerned art neighbor and citizen of Marfa. I’ve heard that Chinati is planning some form of limited opening to the public with the assurance that you will be taking adequate safety measures on the Chinati campus in order to protect people from the corona virus.
I think this is a bad idea any way you slice it. The town is already pretty open, the phones at the Hotel St. George are hopping off the receiver with requests for reservations and airbnbs are being swamped with hopeful bookings.
Some restaurants in town with very close seating are also opening to the public. This is a real shit show and altogether will bring only the worst upon the town.
When we look at a map of the United States and then Texas and then we move it over to Marfa there is a profound absence of red dots. We’ve all seen it. I got tested last week. I don’t know how many will test positive from the last round of testing here but it’s probably still pretty low.
What that clear undotted map of America suggests is that this (Marfa) is a beach clear of Covid and if you want a real vacation come here. Put your umbrella down. The state opening, the hotels opening in Marfa are abundantly sending that message and you, Chinati, will be the icing on the cake.
The Chinati Foundation is the gem of the town and the ultimate lure that will effectively draw people to this “safe space.” Safe for who. Me? You and your husband and kids, Jenny, and all our friends. As you both know there is no safe space from Covid. If you were to open up in some limited way you might keep it “safe” on the Chinati campus but you have no control over the general effect, the consequences, the real and virtual viral load of saying to people outside of our town come and get it. Get your safe vacation here.
One of the things that strikes me about the messaging coming out of the White House and probably from Greg Abbott’s house is that they are all operating like a gated community. Everybody gets tested frequently in there, lots of sanitizer and masks and all of them have the option of keeping lots of private space around themselves. They don’t need to shop in public, they don’t need to pump gas, they don’t need to go to bars. That does not strike me as the profile that you want associated with your institution. And life doesn’t work like that here. Your visitors will walk around. They will spread.
Chinati is so prominent and as an art museum you are a vital messaging center.
I really beg of you to send a safe, human-conserving, progressive message, not a hamstrung locally-driven one. Art institutions around the country are staying shuttered and I guess I’m asking if you are part of that community or the one obeying the governor who is obeying the president and putting all of us at risk for the sake of capital and future elections.
What does Chinati put first, human values or political ones. I just don’t get the politics of such an influential vanguard institution as yours opening to the public right now.
It messes with the message of your history and I think people will look back on this moment with shame if you forge ahead without a serious acknowledgment of consequences.
I hope by now you’ve put the issue to rest. It’s a mistake to open, plain and simple and I hope to hear that that path already for the present time is firmly shut.
Thanks for your attention,