It’s official: Native American artists will return Friday to the portal at the Palace of the Governors.
The state Department of Cultural Affairs approved a COVID-19 safety plan to reopen the decades-old vendors program on the downtown Plaza, in which Native artists sell their own jewelry and other crafts, said Billy Garrett, executive director of the New Mexico History Museum, which includes the more than 400-year-old Palace of the Governors.
“We’re really looking forward to getting them going and to the public coming and taking advantage of the work of the vendors,” he said.
Maya Quintana, a Zia Pueblo silversmith who serves as vice chairwoman of the Portal Committee — a panel of artisans who oversee the Native American Artisans Portal Program — said the artists are excited to be returning.
One challenge the artists have faced, particularly during the pandemic, is the lack of a full email list of members, making communication difficult.
Still, news of the program’s reopening has been spreading fast.
“Everyone called everyone else,” Quintana said. “The word has spread really fast, and that’s a good thing.”
The new safety plan requires all participating artists to wear masks and to maintain a distance of 6 feet between vendor spaces. Quintana said those spaces have been marked in advance of the reopening.
The social distancing guidelines will lead to fewer than the usual 68 or 69 vendors who appeared on the portal nearly every day before the pandemic, Garrett said. That number will likely be in the low 50s. Some of the vendors will sell their goods on Washington and Lincoln avenues near — but not under — the portal, he said.
“We’re going to try to figure out what the best combination is in terms of allowing as many vendors to sell as possible but staying within COVID guidelines,” Garrett said.
The pandemic forced the artists to abandon the area in March 2020, denuding the Plaza of a cultural tradition.
About 1,500 artists are enrolled in the portal program, Garrett said. Of those, 200 to 300 are actively engaged in selling.
He and Quintana said interested artists will show up at 8 a.m. Friday for a lottery drawing to determine who win the right to sell that day.
Artists will begin setting up their vendor spaces immediately after the drawing, Quintana said, so sales could start as early as 8:30 a.m.
She said her sense of excitement is offset by some nervousness.
“Because you never know what might happen, how many people will show up,” she said.