Three former officials with the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts announced Sunday on Facebook that they are creating a new market that will be held the same weekend as the 93rd Santa Fe Indian Market in August.
The Indigenous Fine Art Market will be headed by John Torres Nez, the former chief operating officer of SWAIA, who resigned March 31, citing his “fiduciary duty.”
While the group hasn’t agreed on a site for the market, officials say they have been eyeing the Santa Fe Indian School campus.
Torres Nez and Jemez Pueblo Gov. Joshua Madalena made a presentation recently to the school’s board about using that property on Cerrillos Road, said Superintendent Roy Herrera. But Madalena said Monday that the plan would need the approval of New Mexico’s 19 pueblo governors.
Tailinh Agoyo, who stepped down as SWAIA’s marketing director on April 18, will be director of marketing and creative services for the new event. And Paula Rivera, who was in charge of artists’ services at SWAIA until Friday, will be director of program operations for the new market. All three announced their resignations on Facebook in the last month.
Hundreds of people have signed an online petition at change.org supporting a new market led by Torres Nez.
Agoyo said the leaders of the new market aren’t trying to create friction between artists who take part in the separate markets.
“It was organic,” Agoyo said. “We had a few meetings and, slowly, it started to evolve, and it turned into something amazing.”
She added that the Indigenous Fine Art Market’s new website will go live Friday. Artists will find instructions there for applying to the new market. The venue will be announced next week, she said.
SWAIA board members said Monday they support additional markets for Indian art, just not on the same weekend as the Indian Market, which annually draws large crowds to downtown Santa Fe.
“As far as the board is concerned, if it’s good for native artists, we’re fine with it,” said Stockton Colt, SWAIA board president.
But it may not be a “smart move,” he said, to hold two markets on the same weekend. “It divides buyers of Native art and is not necessarily to the advantage of Native artists — and that’s who we serve.”
There are already other shows in Santa Fe on Indian Market weekend that “draw money out of collectors’ pockets,” he said, “and that worries us.”
But Colt said Monday that SWAIA is “moving ahead” and has hired John Paul Rangel, who is Apache and Navajo, as its public relations/marketing director. Rangel served in that position in 2008-09. Since 2000, he has been the owner and creative director for his own design and marketing business and on the adjunct faculty at the Institute of American Indian Arts since 2003. He is one of several new hires to be announced in the next couple of weeks.
Chief Development Officer Charlene Porsild is stepping up to handle more duties. She was hired a year ago, on Torres Nez’s recommendation, to share management of the organization. But they apparently hadn’t been seeing eye-to-eye lately.
“At the staff level, there was discussion between our two executives,” said board member Roger Fragua. “At one point in time, neither one was satisfied with their work environment and both were looking for jobs.”
Porsild had applied to become executive director of the Historic Museum at Fort Missoula in Montana, but Fragua said she has since withdrawn her application and is committed to staying with SWAIA.
The resignations and the announcement about the new competition come just four months before Indian Market, the largest art market of its kind, which draws 175,000 people to the Plaza area for what has become Santa Fe’s busiest tourism weekend.
On Sunday, Indigenous Fine Art Market posted on its Facebook page a photo of the three former SWAIA officials along with at least 16 Native American artists.
“Your outpouring of support has been absolutely incredible,” the message said. “We are so grateful. Thank you so much! As you can imagine, we’re trying to catch our breath! We’ll answer all of your emails, texts, and phone calls soon + we’ll keep you updated as we progress. Thanks again.”
Some artists, who initially demanded Torres Nez be reinstated as co-leader of SWAIA, have come out supporting the new group “like a breath of fresh air” for Native American artists.
Monty Claw, who has been participating at Santa Fe Indian Market since 2001, said he will not go to SWAIA’s market because he believes Torres Nez is better suited to run an Indian Market.
“I’m not upset at SWAIA,” said Claw, a jeweler based in Gallup. “It’s just time for a different venue that has more of a Native voice.”
But board members say they have received “phenomenal” support from other artists since Torres Nez left, in part over a disagreement about pay and benefit cuts at SWAIA.
“When you read Facebook, you get a negative view of what’s going on,” Colt said. “The reality is we’ve lost none of our major partners. People are asking what they can do for us and we’re providing the answers.”
Many artists he added, “Are banding together and coming to us and saying, ‘We want to help you.’ ”
Fragua emphasized the mission of SWAIA is to support Indian art, and “anyone supporting Indian art is a friend, not a foe.”
There is a finite number of buyers and the economy is still challenging, he said. The buyer who comes to Indian Market from out of state might also stop in Albuquerque’s Old Town as well as check out Santa Fe galleries and other attractions, Fragua said, but “there are only so many hours and so much money in their pockets.”
Fragua said he’s seen what happens when there are too many tribal casinos in the same area. They all compete for the same customers and the market gets saturated.
“When you go to Indian Market now, each potter is [already] competing with lots of others potters,” he said. “The same is true for weavers and jewelers. If you create another show at the same time, it makes it that much more competitive for the artists.”
The biggest mistake he ever made as Jemez tribal administrator, Fragua said, was to hold an art market at the Albuquerque Hilton hotel in Albuquerque during Balloon Fiesta, hoping to benefit from the big influx of tourists. Nobody came.
Looking ahead, Fragua said the board is anticipating a “wonderful market because of all the press.” Artists booth fees are coming in, and many are telling SWAIA, “We’re going to be there in a big way,” he said. Even seasoned artists are volunteering to answer phone calls and process paperwork, he said, and “that speaks volumes.”