Postponement of Santa Fe Indian Market to Impact Livelihoods of Native Artists

Left to right: Juanita Growing Thunder Fogarty and Joyce Growing Thunder (Assiniboine/Sioux); Stetson Honyumptewa (Hopi); Jolene Bird (Santo Domingo Pueblo). (Photos by Gabriella Marks, 2016, Courtesy SWAIA Facebook)

With Santa Fe Indian Market called off until 2021, Native artists look for virtual avenues to offset their losses

Santa Fe Indian Market, scheduled for August 15-16, is the latest cherished event that won’t be happening in 2020 due to concerns over COVID-19. The Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA), the event’s organizer, made the announcement on April 4.

Indian Market is an event that transcends commerce. The streets packed with people, artists and shoppers alike, shuffling from stall to stall on block after block, the sunlight glinting off of turquoise and silver on a glorious August day — even if you’ve never been, you’ve likely seen pictures and heard stories of this highlight of the Native arts calendar. With street performances, competitions, and gatherings in galleries and artists’ studios, Indian Market has the spirit of a party and a family reunion for the dispersed community of Native artists, whether their work is traditional or contemporary. Up until a few days ago, the event was still planned.

In the statement announcing the decision, artist and SWAIA board member Dominique Toya wrote that “this is a difficult decision because Indian Market is a big part of my livelihood, but it is more important to protect the well-being of fellow artists, their families, our customers, and all of our communities.”

2020 was to be the 99th annual Indian Market. Although artists and organizers are discussing virtual alternatives, this will officially be the year without a market. 2021 will be the 99th Indian Market, and the landmark 100th edition will be pushed to 2022.

“For the 1,000-plus Native artists and their families, the news — as wise as the decision is — could not be worse,” reads an editorial in the Santa Fe New Mexican. “For many, the market provides the bulk of a year’s income. It is where careers are launched and reputations made.”

“Without Indian Market, our city will suffer economically and emotionally,” the editorial added. “Not having Indian Market means the loss of the opportunity to share in the gifts of traditional culture, where artists pass along their unique skills and wisdom and where we all leave better for the exchange. Without Indian Market, Santa Fe is poorer.”

On the SWAIA Facebook page, artists and patrons have expressed sadness, but approval at the decision. Santa Fe-based ledger artist Dolores Purdy, Caddo, wrote, “Thank you Swaia for the early decision. I am sure it was a tough call for all of you. … Thanks for thinking of us (and all of the staff).” Dawn Dark Mountain, a watercolor artist from the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, said she’ll be disappointed to miss out on exhibiting her work, but added that “this was clearly the right decision. I commend SWAIA’s board and staff for making the best decision for everyone.”

Other commenters pointed out that the event is by its nature all-ages, and many of the most esteemed artists are elders, whose risk of death from COVID-19 is highest. Though it’s a heartwarming sight to see younger generations meeting master craftspeople, that’s exactly the wrong sort of social dynamic in the year of coronavirus. These days, the Native value of protecting elders is the best policy for all humans.

Indian Market is one of three big market events that are crucial to Santa Fe’s economy. The Spanish Market, scheduled for late July, announced yesterday that it too would be sitting 2020 out. The International Folk Art Market (IFAM), scheduled for July 10-12, has not canceled its event — yet. The cancelation or potential cancelation of related events, including Native Treasures, Contemporary Spanish Market, and We are the Seeds, paints a dire picture for summer 2020 in Santa Fe. Other cultural institutions like Santa Fe Opera and Santa Fe Chamber Music are looking at tough decisions.

For all their disappointment, those who love Indian Market are looking for solutions, and it’s clear there will be some sort of online venues, official or unofficial, for Native artists to showcase their work. SWAIA has put up a COVID-19 resource page for artists, and encourages those with ideas to help populate it. While a virtual showcase can’t capture the camaraderie and buzz of the real thing, there is palpable enthusiasm for supporting artists whose livelihoods are threatened.

“You’re just going to have to find new ways to sell and work,” painter Nocona Burgess, Comanche, told the Santa Fe Reporter. “I’m hoping collectors will step up and buy. You can still buy from these artists and not have to come to Santa Fe. Collectors know the quality of the work; I just think it’s kind of a new way of dealing with stuff this year.”

“Our early reading of all this is that a lot of our artists who are self-employed are going to have a hard time tapping into some of the relief packages that are out there,” SWAIA Board Chairman Thomas A Teegarden told the Santa Fe Reporter, referring to efforts like the federal government’s emergency small-business measures. “But by working with the federal government and the tribal governments, we may find some avenues [to help] the ones who need it the most.”

At this point, 2020 is a year of disappointments, as everything from movie premieres to sporting events have been canceled. SWAIA’s decision wasn’t unexpected. The resilient Native arts community, like the resilient Native people, will get through, and even though it’s just April 2020, they’re already looking forward to the return of Indian Market in 2021, and then the 100th Market extravaganza happening in 2022.


Native Business Virtual Summit 2020 – Nov. 17th-20th






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