SWAIA Saw the Pandemic’s Silver Lining: Santa Fe Indian E-Market

Royston Turquoise Bracelet by Myles Calladitto, Diné. View the complete list of virtual Indian Market artists at market.swaia.org. (Photo Courtesy swaia.org/exhibitors)

The pandemic forced everyone to be in this place of standstill, and in that standstill, we were able to build something that was an opportunity. That was our silver lining.” —SWAIA Executive Director Kimberly Peone

For Native artists across Indian Country, making the annual trek to Santa Fe to showcase and sell their artisan designs at the Indian Market is a long-standing tradition — it’s been done since 1922. 

But the 2020 Santa Fe Indian Market — one of the largest attractions for Indigenous-made jewelry, fine art, crafts and fashion worldwide — doesn’t require a plane ticket or a car ride to the historic Santa Fe Plaza. It’s accessible via your laptop, tablet, even your smartphone at SWAIA.org. 

Now international collectors are perusing Native American creations with the click of a button, and adding beautiful items of varying shapes, sizes and weight to their online carts for direct shipment to their homes. 

“Truly, this is a platform that is for shopping. It’s an Indigenous shopping network,” Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA) Executive Director Kimberly Peone told KSFR’s Wake Up Call. Peone (Colville Confederated Tribes / Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) is the association’s first-ever Native American female to lead as executive director.  

“Explore it and have fun. Look at all of the different artists and their artwork. We’re proud of what we’re building. We’re proud of our artists. We’re proud of our Native communities. This was a way for us to show our culture, to show our artistic abilities, and we hope that people will come and join us in that celebration,” Peone continued. 

2020 marks the 99th Santa Fe Indian Market. (Photo by Gabriella Marks, Courtesy SWAIA.org)

For Native artists, the spectacular event is typically a reunion. It’s an opportunity to receive recognition and awards from host, SWAIA. It’s also where they generate a significant amount of revenue for their business. It’s a major contributor to their annual income. 

As a result of the pandemic, SWAIA pivoted to a virtual environment. Originally scheduled for August 15-16, this year’s Santa Fe Indian Market now runs throughout the month of August. Market days turned into a market month. 

The theme of the 2020 Indian Market is “Remember. Relive. Reimagine.” SWAIA is doing its best to keep the heart and spirit of the nearly century-old market alive. 

It’s quite a feat. Typically, the streets are 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. 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.

While the online pivot has been an immense undertaking for what is typically a massive in-person affair, SWAIA says there is a silver lining. 

“We could have never pulled this off had we been doing an actual market,” Peone said. “So the pandemic forced everyone to be in this place of standstill, and in that standstill, we were able to build something that was an opportunity. That was our silver lining.” 

Vogue has taken notice. The high-fashion publication recently highlighted several Indigenous artists featured on the virtual Indian Market, where SWAIA’s nearly 100-year-old mission is translated online. 

The Indian Market fashion show will go on virtually. (Photo by Gabriella Marks, Courtesy SWAIA.org)