Texas Monthly: A battle for the soul of Marfa - What happens when a wealthy patron wears out his welcome?

Published: Jan. 22, 2020 at 6:26 PM CST
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There is little about Tim Crowley that doesn’t provoke a strong reaction. At 65, he is a tall, forceful, and fastidiously dressed man, even when he’s in jeans, cowboy boots, and a T-shirt. He brushes his silver hair carefully away from his high, unlined forehead, and he has a thin upper lip that can flatten into an expression of deep distaste when necessary. He flashes extremely white teeth and emits a deep—occasionally mirthless—belly laugh. Overall, Crowley has the cultivated manner and authoritative ease of an eighteenth-century British lord, which suits someone who is a successful trial lawyer, a global entrepreneur, and the biggest man in a small West Texas town of around 1,700 people.

That the town, Marfa, happens to be the unlikeliest of global art capitals and hipster hangouts is due in large part to the persistence and generosity of, well, Tim Crowley. Since arriving in the nineties he has been buying promising if decrepit buildings and turning them into showpieces. “When I first moved here there was one hill you could get cell service on,” he tells me, a bit nostalgically. Crowley turned an old feed store into the Crowley Theater, which hosts, free of charge, everything from local kids in cowboy costumes riding stick horses to the tune of “Texas, Our Texas” to live performances by John Waters or Sissy Spacek. “I couldn’t do this in Houston,” Crowley says.

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM TEXASMONTHLY.COM. Texas Monthly's February issue will be on newsstands Thursday, January 23.

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