Marfa Solidarity Bonds raise over $85,000 for local restaurants

MARFA — The final numbers are in for the Marfa Solidarity Bonds project, and pretty much everyone involved is walking away happy.

The initiative, which saw people buying artist-designed bonds to support local restaurants, was arguably a win-win-win. Artists got new outlets for the work. Locals got to take home some artwork in the form of bonds. And restaurants, reeling from coronavirus, got a helping hand in a time of crisis.

In the end, organizers sold more than 2,700 bonds. Along with $10,000 in matching donations from the Permian Basin Area Foundation, they raised more than $85,000.

To further support the community,  restaurants also gave back with an $11,000 gift to the Marfa Food Pantry. “It was all local effort,” said Shelley Bernstein, an organizer for the project.

Bernstein was living in Red Hook, a hard-to-reach neighborhood of Brooklyn, when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012. Area businesses needed help — but government aid was “too slow” and some didn’t qualify, Bernstein said. One business started selling artist-designed “junk bonds” to stay afloat.

As the pandemic ripped across the world, shuttering businesses in Marfa, Bernstein found herself thinking about that initiative. “It sounded very similar to our situation today,” she said — and she started wondering if a similar effort could help Marfa businesses.

Bernstein and others started reaching out to artists. Marfa institutions like the Judd Foundation, the Chinati Foundation and Ballroom Marfa helped spread word about the project.

It didn’t take long for artists to come aboard. When local artist J.D. Garcia heard about the  project, he quickly agreed to join, designing a bond featuring a mirror-image photo-manipulation of a windmill.

Same with Camp Bosworth, another Marfa artist. Organizers “asked if I wanted to participate, and I said I’d love to,” he recalled. He designed a bond in the style of a dollar bill, replete with a drawing of Donald Judd where a president might have been. Emblazoned on the top and side of the image are the phrases “In Judd We Trust” and “One Square Meal.”

Both Bosworth and Garcia were hit by the coronavirus crisis in their own ways. Bosworth co-owns the Wrong Marfa store and gallery with his wife, city council member Buck Johnston. Like small businesses across the country, they temporarily closed for shutdown orders and have since had to navigate new safety measures.

“All of us are dealing with a degree of uncertainty,” Bosworth said — and that is especially true for friends and neighbors working in the restaurant industry. “For every one of those restaurants, you know who owns it and you know who’s in the kitchen cooking,” he added. “We’re all social together. It’s a tight-knit community.”

Garcia, meanwhile, was working as a bartender at Lost Horse before the pandemic. But Lost Horse was ordered to close and Garcia found himself out of that job. Other bartender friends were in the same position.

For Garcia, the project was a way to bring the community together when social distancing has torn it apart. The other artists involved in the project, he noted, included not just friends but artists he admired.

“It was cool to be there with some really badass artists, like Zoe Leonard and Christopher Wool,” Garcia said. “It was kind of mindblowing, contributing to the same thing as these major artists, as well as some of my really good friends.”

Bosworth and Garcia sent their artwork to organizers. From there, locals chose a bond they wanted, a restaurant they wanted to support, and a bond value ranging from $5 to $100.

Organizers have declined to release information on which bonds and restaurants raised the most money. “We were mindful a fundraiser like this one shouldn’t end up being a competition,” Bernstein said.

Regardless, the initiative proved to be a boon for participating restaurants. Among them was Convenience West, where co-owner Mark Scott said the extra money provided “a pretty large feeling of security.”

“It replaced what would have been a few good catering gigs,” he said of the money the restaurant got through the bonds. “There was a sigh of relief when we knew more money was coming in.”

In the end, Scott said, Marfa Solidarity Bonds provided Convenience West more help than emergency loans from the federal government. He was “extremely, extremely, extremely taken aback” by the efforts put in by organizers, from artists who designed the bonds to those who printed and mailed them out.

“I will be forever grateful,” he said of the project. “It’s incredible. It brings a tear to my eye.”

The project may turn out to be an even bigger success than organizers planned. Initially, organizers intended the bonds to be essentially coupons worth half their cost — so that, for example, a bond purchased for $50 could later be redeemed for $25 in meals. But talk to bond purchasers, and some of them have no plans of turning over the artwork they bought in support of local restaurants. That could have a doubling effect, providing even more cash to businesses in need.

Take Molly Shea, a Marfa resident who purchased several bonds. She described the Solidarity Bonds project in both local and worldwide terms, as a “creative community response to a global crisis.”

“I have no intention of redeeming the bonds I purchased,” Shea said. And while the bonds retailed for half their cost, Shea said she “got back so much more than I put in, which is a beautiful thing.”

“I am a sentimental person,” Shea added, “and I plan on keeping my bonds.” As she saw it, buying Solidarity Bonds was more than a way of giving back. She also got a gift from the project, with “a memento of how Marfa supported its community in this intensely difficult time.”