What 100 Years of Santa Fe Indian Market Teaches About the Art of Longevity

The online game Fortnite sparked an concept that Kim Peone used to assist a century-old artwork market survive into its subsequent 100 years.

Government Director Peone helms the Southwest Affiliation for Indian Arts (SWAIA), the humanities group that hosts Santa Fe Indian Market. Billed as the biggest and most prestigious Native American artwork market within the U.S., Indian Market spent 98 years as an in-person occasion. Till the COVID-19 pandemic struck. With 60% of the revenues wanted to maintain the nonprofit afloat on the road—to not point out the livelihoods of the thousand artists hailing from throughout the U.S. and Canada—Peone wanted to pivot. And quick.

Proving that concepts can come from essentially the most unlikely locations, Peone’s session watching her youngsters and grandchildren play video video games sparked the thought for NDN World. The digital 3D world grew to become a gathering place for avatar-using collectors and artists throughout the 2020 digital market. It additionally showcased Native American artwork in a—maybe stunning to some—new platform.

This pivot was one in every of many Santa Fe Indian Market has made all through its historical past, from its origins, when it was organized by non-Native individuals, by means of assaults on the very cultures the market celebrates. The artists have established the market’s legacy—one in every of endurance and reinvention. As Peone and SWAIA set the course for the following century, they’re leaning into digital and e-commerce platforms.

Navigating Historical past

Every August, the market attracts an estimated 115,000 individuals to New Mexico’s capital to peruse rows of white-tented cubicles. These cubicles additionally unfurl alongside 400-year-old avenues surrounding the Santa Fe Plaza. Artists hailing from some 200 federally acknowledged tribes promote creations from intricately beaded headdresses and inlay gemstone jewellery to up to date sculpture and summary work.

“Indian Market has launched a large number of careers,” says Tom Teegarden, a SWAIA board member and vice chairman at Native American-owned environmental consulting agency Excessive Water Mark LLC. “Among the sharpest eyes within the enterprise consider the entries. Prizes are extremely coveted, and the competitors brings out the perfect and the brightest. The issues that win set developments throughout Indian Nation.” Through the market, Native American dwelling cultures are heart stage, but it surely wasn’t all the time this fashion.

The Museum of New Mexico (now the New Mexico Historical past Museum) introduced the primary market in 1922 as an ethnographic show as a part of Santa Fe Fiesta, one other long-standing neighborhood custom. Hoping to protect what they noticed as a dying tradition, organizers created the Indian Honest, because it was then identified, with a World’s Honest–like ambiance with weaving and sand portray demonstrations, Native American dances, and, in fact, an artwork market.

Till 1936, organizing committee members offered pottery, rugs, and jewellery—not the artists themselves. This alteration was a fulcrum out there’s historical past marking the tipping level when Indigenous peoples more and more grabbed the reins. That journey continues. “We’re always taking again the keys and the messaging as a Native group versus permitting a non-Native voice to talk into the area,” says Peone, a member of the Coville Confederated Tribes of Washington and the primary Native American lady to function SWAIA’s govt director.

The occasion started to resemble at present’s market within the Nineteen Sixties. An unbiased group assembled to prepare the occasion, which acquired a hearty dose of expertise from the newly based Institute of American Indian Arts, which introduced skills from throughout Indian Nation to Santa Fe to check and ideal their mediums. A rising prize cash pot enhanced the market’s status. In 1993, the board adopted the title Southwestern Affiliation for Indian Arts and set its mission of “bringing Native arts to the world by inspiring creative excellence.”

Crafting a Legacy

The artists who collect in Santa Fe every year are carrying on a cultural inheritance that dates past the market’s founding. Santa Fe, which rests on the standard lands of the Tewa individuals, sits alongside millennia-old Indigenous buying and selling routes. Generations of peoples have traveled to and thru this space with their items.

Designer Patricia Michaels, who hails from Taos Pueblo and took part within the design-competition-reality-TV present Mission Runway, remembers seeing proof of commerce whereas rising up north of SantaFe. “This occasion brings again a few of the individuals we traded with earlier than [European] contact, resembling these from the Northern Plains,” she says.

Over Indian Market’s historical past, world-changing occasions got here and went. The Nice Melancholy. World Struggle II. September 11. And the market remained. It endured regardless of efforts to extinguish the very cultures that made it thrive. Generations of Native Individuals funneled by means of Indian Boarding Faculties, the place they weren’t allowed to talk their heritage languages, comply with their non secular practices, or proceed conventional artwork types. Indian Market survived as a result of its artists and their cultures survived. “It’s humbling if you stroll into Indian Market and see all of the cultures represented,” Michaels says. “It’s like no different place on the planet. It reveals our survival and the way we nonetheless exist.”

The market’s longevity has develop into woven into the generations of artists that exhibit there. Youngsters develop up of their grandparents’ and oldsters’ cubicles, then declare their creative heritage with cubicles of their very own. That was the case for Adrian Standing Elk Pinnecoose, who holds Diné and Southern Ute heritage. He grew up out there and commenced within the youth division at age 8. “Indian market’s legacy is rooted in custom, household, tradition, and identification,” he says. “It’s part of individuals’s lives. A variety of artists look ahead to this second the entire yr.”

Now 34, Pinnecoose’s inspirations are conventional—they draw upon his ancestors’ weaving designs—however his creations are something however. He creates computer-generated prints and 3D-fabricated jewellery, and he has proven laser-cut clothes on the market’s up to date style present. Though some collectors balk at the kind of non-traditional strategies Pinnecoose makes use of, this evolution is one motive the market has endured: It evolves together with its artists. “I discover it’s crucial to precise each side of 1’s voice,” Pinnecoose says. “Individuals needs to be allowed to discover their concepts in methods which can be true to them.”

“There’s been an actual push pull with custom versus evolution,” says Invoice Lomax, a SWAIA board member of Gitxsan heritage (a Canadian First Nations society) and Vice President at Goldman Sachs. “A variety of people favor to concentrate solely to what’s conventional. However we’re not static. Our individuals are rising as artists, individuals, and communities. We’re evolving the way in which everyone does.”

The artists’ tenacity has helped the market endure, however the market has additionally helped Indigenous tradition survive. Peone says Indian Market artists common $60,000 in gross sales throughout market weekend—a complete yr’s revenue for some. These gross sales allow artists to stay of their Indigenous communities and pursue their artwork, relatively than leaving to seek out work exterior their communities and in different fields.

“These people need to discover the vastness of their cultures by means of the humanities,” Lomax says. “Usually they’re the cultural carriers for his or her communities.”

Embracing Digital

Peone believes launching the market—and its artists—into the digital realm will set it up for the following 100 years. However making that flip isn’t simple. Peone estimates that because the market deliberate its 2020 digital market, solely 77 of the thousand taking part artists had their very own web sites. With SWAIA’s help, 450 had web sites on the finish of the market season.

In time for its centennial, the market is launching an e-commerce platform, Indigenous Collections, to shore up its sustainability and scale its financial affect. “Entry is a big barrier for Native Individuals. They’ll promote to their very own neighborhood members or buying and selling posts close to dwelling for a small share of the worth they might get in a location with true retail,” she says. “We’re attempting to offer a digital platform artists can use to promote from rural areas and year-round. We don’t need to have ravenous artists. We wish our artists to prosper.”

Nevertheless, many artists concern placing their works on-line the place it may well simply be imitated. “A variety of the artists have skilled having others make knockoffs and posting them at less expensive costs. That’s damaging to the actual artist,” Lomax says. Though the market can’t stop works from being copied, it may well confirm the authenticity of artwork offered on its web site, thus attracting collectors. “We’ll have a safer place for them to promote their wares,” Lomax says.

Even because it returned to a strong in-person market in 2022, SWAIA was additional growing its digital NDN World. “It’s one other means for SWAIA to carry Native arts to the world,” says NDN World Coordinator Neebinnaukzhik Southall (Ojibwe). “A variety of occasions when know-how is being mentioned in relation to Native peoples, it will get positioned in a false binary of ‘conventional vs. up to date.’ I believe there’s room for everybody and the whole lot.”

Sloughing off old-school pondering has given the 100-year-old group a startup mentality. “Startups have a philosophy of possession. That’s the [business] tradition I’ve created,” Peone says. “We don’t work from 9 to five, and we don’t see the effort and time we expend as a burden.” With that mindset, the market is simply getting began.

“As we go ahead, we are able to’t assist however see market evolve,” Lomax says. “The true legacy of Indian Market is that it’s stored cultures alive.” 

This text initially appeared within the September/October 2022 Subject of SUCCESS journal. Pictures by Tira Howard and Terrance Clifford

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