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Santa Fe: A Two-Market Town?

As the 93rd annual Santa Fe Indian Market approaches, the rise of the new Indigenous Fine Art Market poses questions over whether the city—home to the biggest Native art scene in the world—will be big enough for two markets come August.

John Torres Nez, former COO of SWAIA and now president of IFAM, speaks at the 2013 Santa Fe Indian Market.

John Torres Nez, former COO of SWAIA and now president of IFAM, speaks at the 2013 Santa Fe Indian Market.

By Kevin Coochwytewa

Almost half of Comanche painter Nocona Burgess’ art revenue comes in over a few days in August during Santa Fe Indian Market—the largest, oldest, best-known destination for Native artists and Native art collectors. This year, the event has a new challenger.

“I’m in SWAIA,” says Burgess referring to the acronym of Indian Market's non-profit parent organization the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts. “I won’t be in the other one.”

The “other one” is the Indigenous Fine Art Market, IFAM for short. This year, the upstart’s inaugural event will overlap with SWAIA’s 93-year-old Santa Fe Indian Market in the same city, and vie for the same eyes and wallets. IFAM will run Aug. 21, 22 and 23—a Thursday, Friday and Saturday—and SWAIA’s Indian Market will take place Aug. 23 and 24.

“I just kind of have a feeling that when people come, they plan year round to go to SWAIA,” says Burgess. “So if you’ve got five-grand you want to spend, are you going to start spending it Thursday and Friday before the actual Indian Market?”

That five-grand is no joke. In past years, Indian Market has brought in around 175,00 people to Santa Fe over one weekend, and revenues to the tune of a combined $122 million for local businesses. When it comes to economic impact, market week in Santa Fe is also no joke, which means choices the artists faced this year posed tough decisions for some: stay with the established market, go with a new one or show at both.

“If it was a different time, I’d be all for it, but I can’t roll the dice,” says Burgess. “I got mouths to feed.”

The chain of events that led to the establishment of IFAM created points of contention through the spring in Santa Fe as many artists declared their support for John Torrez Nez, the former chief operating officer for SWAIA who announced his resignation at the end of March and is now head of IFAM.

Two other SWAIA staffers also stepped down following Nez’s resignation, and the three announced soon after that they were forming their own Indian market, IFAM.

By building a new venue for up-and-coming artists as well as those who do not or cannot participate in Indian Market, out-of-state tourists looking to spend money in New Mexico have a new event to visit.

However, the new bazaar also risks oversaturating the market by adding 300 additional Indian artist booths on top of the 600 booths already set up for SWAIA’s event.

“Competition is a good thing, but saturation may not be, and that’s one of the possible dangers,” says Stephen Fadden, a professor at the Institute of American Indian Arts. “So supply and demand: You increase the supply and eventually the demand diminishes and prices drop.”

2010 Santa Fe Indian Market. Photo by Marshall Segal (http://bit.ly/1s3XoOn)

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Thousands Descend on Santa Fe

Upon his resignation in March, Nez posted a statement saying it was his “fiduciary duty” to resign from his position at SWAIA, where he became COO in October 2012. Under his tenure, Indian Market pulled in approximately $1.3 million from the event last year alone. However, with his resignation, remaining SWAIA employees had their hours cut by 20 percent due to cash flow problems. A month later, IFAM was born.

“Ultimately, the people who win are not going to be the artists. It’s going to be the businesses, the state and the feds. They’re going to get their cut no matter what. People are going to come to market, and even if the artists don’t do well, the people still come,” says Fadden. “From a capitalist perspective, you’ve got a dream happening.”

“It’s a very good thing for the city,” says Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales. “Anytime that we can expand our markets to include more artists and give them venues to be able to sell their artwork, it’s great for them, it’s good for the city and it’s really good for our visitors who come in and want to experience wonderful artwork.”

Each year thousands of people descend on the city to take part in Indian Market. Santa Fe’s historic downtown is closed to cars so booths can be set up right on the street among the adobe buildings. “Hotel rooms are filled, restaurants are at capacity and there’s a lot of economic churn that’s taking place, and that’s really what we want at the end of the day,” says Gonzales.

“Our relationship is with the institution, not with the individuals who happen to be in charge,” says Kevin Gover, of NMAI."

While Indian Market takes place downtown, IFAM will take place in the Santa Fe Railyard, a nearly 20-minute walk from downtown. Gonzales says he has been very supportive of IFAM setting up another venue, but maintains support for SWAIA, especially with the recent announcement of a new interim Chief Operating Officer to replace Nez: Seneca and Northern Arapaho artist Dallin Maybee. A sentiment other SWAIA partners are happy about.

“Our relationship is with the institution, not with the individuals who happen to be in charge,” says Kevin Gover, director of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). “But having said that, it was nice to see someone as talented and smart as Dallin Maybee step in to serve as [COO] for the association.”

Each year, NMAI partners with SWAIA to put on a film showcase featuring Native film and video, as well as being a part of a scholarly symposium on Native art. Gover says this year, he’s not worried about the perception of a split.

“Here’s the reality: tens of thousands of people are going to come to Santa Fe on that weekend in August,” says Gover. “They’re not coming here because we’re doing a film festival, they’re not coming here because the galleries are having openings, they’re not coming here for the Indigenous Fine Art Market, they’re coming here for Santa Fe Indian Market and that’s SWAIA’s thing, and we respect that.”

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IFAM: ‘It’s all about inclusion’

IFAM also has its pool of supporters, and many stepped forward to voice their support in an online petition starting in early April “to let the SWAIA/BOD, artists, supporters and general public know we declare our support of a New Market led by John Torres Nez.”

“This really is grassroots, it came from the artists,” says Nez. “I’m trying to stay away from words like new or better, it’s just a different way to do it, and it’s one I’m more comfortable with because it’s so inclusive with the artist voice, and to me that makes it extra special.”

Booths at IFAM are cheaper, judging and categories are slightly different, it’s open to Native Hawaiians unlike Indian Market, and organizationally, IFAM says artists make the decisions about what the group should do instead of a select few.

“I honestly thought I was going to leave for all the reasons I left and I was going to go back to a museum or do something else in town, and the artists stood up and said ‘no, we want a different show and can you help us do it’,” says Nez.

“This really is grassroots, it came from the artists."

Nez says the other possibility for IFAM in the future is going on the road. Think IFAM Honolulu, IFAM Tokyo, IFAM Madrid.

“In a nutshell, to me it’s all about inclusion,” says Nez. “Including all our community constituents here, including all the levels of native art.”

According to John Paul Rangel, director of marketing for SWAIA, booths for Indian Market are sold out, and despite IFAM moving in down the street, it’s business as usual for SWAIA. Also, despite turnover and strife within the organization earlier this year, Indian Market is happening in Santa Fe, just like it has 92 times before.

“Clearly, this other market presents a choice for Indian artists, whether or not they’re going to choose to remain in the historic downtown plaza where people know to come to Indian Market or if they’re going to try something different,” says Rangel. “At the end of the day it’s their choice. We want artists to be successful, we want to do what we can to support Native artists and that’s because we want to support our families and communities.”

Tristan Ahtone (Kiowa) is an award-winning reporter and based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Reach him on Twitter: @tahtone.