Marfa Invitational’s Nonprofit Status is Reinstated

by Jessica Fuentes January 4, 2024

In a letter received from the Internal Revenue Service on November 11, 2023, Marfa Invitational, a foundation and nonprofit organization that organizes an annual art fair in West Texas, had its 501(c)3 nonprofit status reinstated retroactively, effective May 15, 2023. 

Last fall, a report by Artnet broke the story that the Invitational’s nonprofit status was revoked by the IRS on May 15, 2023 due to failure to submit 990 taxes for the past three years. Additionally, the publication noted that two board members and two board advisors stepped down from their positions around the time of the news. Shortly thereafter, The Big Bend Sentinel reported that former board member Kathleen Irvin Loughlin filed a charitable trust complaint with the Texas Attorney General’s Office, alleging that Michael Phelan, director and founder of the organization, has mismanaged donor funds by using them for personal and travel expenses.

When Glasstire reported on the news in mid-November, Mr. Phelan had not responded to a request for comment. However, Artnet’s article published on October 26 stated that Mr. Phelan asserted “that the failure to file tax returns was a mistake, and that 501(c)(3) status will be reinstated within days.” 

In a social media post last month, the Invitational announced that its nonprofit status had been reinstated. A statement provided to Glasstire by Mr. Phelan noted, “Having demonstrated that all legal and financial records are up-to-date, filed, and in compliance, Marfa Invitational would like to extend its thanks and gratitude to its top-tier legal and financial teams. Including West Texas legend Liz Rogers.”

A copy of the Invitational’s 501(c)3 status reinstatement letter from the IRS can be viewed via the IRS’ website.

Looking ahead to things to come from the Marfa Invitational, Mr. Phelan’s statement noted that a new outdoor sculptural work by Ryan Schneider, along with the already obtained but not yet installed Sleeping Figure by Matt Johnson, will debut this spring at the Marfa Invitational’s Sculpture Park.

A photograph of a large scale sculpture of a figure constructed from shipping containers with a mountain in the background.

Matt Johnson, “Sleeping Figure,” installation view at Desert X 2023

Mr. Phelan remarked in his statement to Glasstire, “It is with utmost gratitude and humility we wish to extend our sincerest Thanks and high praise to our Marfa Invitational familia…As Marfa Invitational continues onward realizing a new Vision for the future. With the belief and understanding that together we are greater.”

The reinstatement of the Invitational’s nonprofit status is separate from Ms. Irvin Loughlin’s complaint with the Texas Attorney General’s Office. The office has not made any public statements regarding the status of Ms. Irvin Loughlin’s complaint.

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