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A Letter from Ballroom Marfa’s Co-Founders on the Future of the Drive-In

11 Jun 2014

Ballroom Marfa Drive-In, rendering by MOS 2012
Ballroom Marfa Drive-In, rendering by MOS 2012

Dear Ballroom Marfa supporters and Marfa community members,

In 2006 Ballroom Marfa began developing an idea for a community space that we started calling the Drive-In. The name came out of our desire to conjure the spirit that used to exist around drive-in movie theaters. Our plans included an outdoor screen/bandshell that we hoped would be just as suitable for high school graduation ceremonies and community theater productions as for film screenings and Tejano concerts, and the Drive-In also called for all kinds of new developments to the eight-acre section of Vizcaino Park that we leased from Presidio County in 2012.

AJ and Sergio Castillo, August 31, 2013.    Photo by Lesley Brown.
AJ and Sergio Castillo, August 31, 2013. Photo by Lesley Brown.

Now, after years of enthusiastic and imaginative collaboration between a crew of partners ranging from the Presidio County Commissioners to the architects at MOS, the Ballroom Marfa Board of Trustees has decided that, in spite of our best intentions, the project has outgrown the original vision. In its current proposed state, the Drive-In project will require significant fundraising efforts that could compromise the level of innovative and community-minded programming that has been Ballroom Marfa’s priority since 2003. As of now further development of the Drive-In is indefinitely deferred.

However, the spirit of this ambitious project is not confined to our enterprising architectural renderings. Thus we are moving forward with a more immediate strategy when it comes to the kind of events the Drive-In was intended to enable.

The Drive-In has invigorated Ballroom Marfa, and has guided us toward accessing existing spaces and better cooperation with our neighbors, whether bringing the Tish Hinojosa Band to the USO Building, inviting Fat Lyle’s food truck into the courtyard for the Sound Speed Marker reception or the spontaneous decision for Marisa Anderson to play an intimate sunset concert amid travel trailers and VW buses in the yard behind our office.

We are energized over the possibilities that this new, more agile framework allows us to realize. Ballroom Marfa’s lease at Vizcaino Park only pertains to the undeveloped softball field. The majority of the park – including the bandshell, baseball field, picnic area and playground – is managed by Presidio County. We’ll continue to program events there in coordination with Presidio County, taking inspiration from past and present Vizcaino Park gatherings like those put together by Ballroom Marfa and other members of the Marfa community.

The Doodlin' Hogwallops, April 21, 2014.    Photo by Lesley Brown.The Doodlin’ Hogwallops, April 21, 2014. Photo by Lesley Brown.

The Drive-In project led us to collaborate with Marfa Chamber of Commerce at to bring Tejano superstar AJ Castillo to Vizcaino Park for the 2013 Marfa Lights Festival and to work with Presidio County 4-H for a concert by Big Bend honky-tonk heroes the Doodlin’ Hogwallops at the county fair. Drive-In thinking led us to work with composer Graham Reynolds for The Marfa Triptych, an ongoing suite of performances blending country, norteño, jazz and opera traditions, all inspired by the culture and landscape our Far West Texas backyard. It also brought us together with the El Paso Opera for July’s upcoming Marfa, El Paso and Ciudad Juárez performances of Vidas Perfectas, a multimedia Spanish-language opera filmed on location here in Marfa, which recently debuted at the 2014 Whitney Biennial to glowing reviews.

So with that in mind we invite your questions and ideas, and also remind you of our upcoming summer programs – our fifth annual DJ Camp, plus free workshops with jazz icon Kahil El’Zabar and a field recording class presented with Marfa Public Radio – and what is sure to be a legendary night with the inimitable Bonnie “Prince” Billy.

In closing we’d like to thank everyone for continuing on with us as we plan for a vibrant future, both here in Texas and abroad. Thank you to all the individuals, foundations, our board of trustees, present and past staff, community members, designers and champions of the Drive-In.

Ballroom Marfa and the Marfa Chamber of Commerce Present AJ Castillo

11 Apr 2013

From Big Bend Now:

“Award winning Tejano accordionist AJ Castillo stars as the 27th annual Marfa Lights Festival concert returns to Vizcaino Park on Labor Day Weekend.

The Marfa Chamber of Commerce hosts the annual festival, and this year the chamber is planning a great event.

This year’s event is co-presented by Ballroom Marfa. The arts and culture organization is partnering with the Marfa Chamber of Commerce to help fund and organize the concert, which takes place on the future site of the Ballroom Drive-In, an ambitious project that will reestablish the 21-acre Vizcaino Park as a state-of-the-art performance venue and community gathering space.

Three-time award winner AJ Castillo is known for his unique accordion sound and style, his energetic live performances, and his extraordinary custom accordions.”

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The Drive-In, En Español

26 Mar 2013

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The Drive-In, now available en Español thanks to Ballroom intern Cristina Garcés.

El concepto para Drive-In surgió de las discusiones sobre el futuro del programa de cine de Ballroom Marfa, entre las fundadoras Virginia Lebermann, Fairfax Dorn y Josh Siegel, comisario de cine del Museo de Arte Moderno de Nueva York. Ya se trate de películas, música o instalaciones multimedia, Ballroom Marfa es consciente de la voluntad de los artistas por realizar, y del público por participar, en eventos que se celebran al aire libre bajo el cielo del lejano oeste de Texas. Drive-In reaviva el espíritu comunitario que existe en torno a la idea original drive in en los cines, pero lejos de jugueteos nostálgicos, nos sitúa ante una re-configuración del clásico drive-in hacia una arquitectura que combina cine y auditorio al aire libre situado en un paisaje desértico. Cine de verano, proyecciones de películas, juegos acústicos, festivales de música, ópera bajo las estrellas o en el coche, serán las experiencias redefinidas por el público.

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Lonn Taylor on Noisy Children, Empty Churches and the Ballroom Drive-In

15 Mar 2013

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Ballroom Marfa Drive-In and Vizcaino Park Master Plan

In last week’s edition of our local paper, the Big Bend Sentinel, Fort Davis-based columnist and historian Lonn Taylor asked questions about the ongoing Ballroom Marfa Drive-In project, shedding light on the history of drive-in movie theaters in the process.

“The popularity of drive-ins was a function of the baby boom that followed World War II, when many young families had noisy children,” he writes. “Drive-in owners added playgrounds for the children and concession stands, some of them serving full meals, for adults. Even Marfa, with a population of 3,600, had a drive-in, which opened in 1953 just west of the cemetery and closed six years later.”

He goes on to wonder about the lessons learned from other developers who have tried to launch projects in our Far West Texas town, specifically the failure of the Brite family to establish a Disciples of Christ community in the World War II-era, an exercise that included enticing believers with the work of architect Leighton Green Knipe, who, as Taylor writes, “gave them a magnificent building whose sanctuary will seat five hundred people.” A building which, after the thriving congregation failed to materialize, “now stands empty on the west side of the courthouse square.”

Taylor also considers the more well-known story of Donald Judd’s arrival in the early ’70s and the 40 years in between that turned, in Taylor’s words, “a drought-blighted cattle town into an international art center.”

Ballroom’s Director of External Affairs & Drive-In Project Manager Melissa McDonnell responded with a letter clarifying that the Drive-In project — encompassing a rehabilitation of the entire 21-acre site at Vizcaino Park — goes beyond the historical models discussed by Taylor …

“The Drive-In project also includes a master plan for Vizcaino Park, which has come out of discussions with Presidio County and community members. The master plan looks at the entire park and identifies needed improvements for existing park structures, such as the baseball field bleachers and locates new recreational spaces such as a soccer field and possibly a skate park. Other organizations such as Big Bend Soccer Association and El Cosmico have expressed interest in participating in the development of these new spaces.

“The Drive-In theater space is for all community organizations to use and program,” she continues. “While Ballroom Marfa will have programming that includes film screenings, concerts and operas, the facility will be available for local organizations to host movie screenings, high school graduations, music concerts, plays, etc.”

Further discussion and exploration of this ongoing project is encouraged from all members of our community. Vistors are welcome to stop by the Drive-In Project space at the Ballroom offices, next door to Marfa Studio Arts at 106 San Antonio. Melissa is also available for comments and questions about the Drive-In project at drivein@www.ballroommarfa.org or 432-729-3600. You can also find out more at the Drive-In section of the Ballroom website.

Click here for the full text of Taylor’s column. Click here for Melissa’s response, which we’ve included in full after the jump …