Here’s another sign that life may be getting back to normal in Santa Fe: Native American artists in the portal program hope to return to the Plaza on Friday to once again sell their wares.
“I feel relieved, so excited,” said Maya Quintana, a Zia silversmith who serves as vice chairwoman of the Portal Committee, a panel of artisans that oversees the Native American Artisans Portal Program.
“We are trying to get everything in order and be ready to go,” she said.
But everything depends on whether the Department of Cultural Affairs, which has ultimate say over the matter, approves a reentry safety plan, said New Mexico History Museum Executive Director Billy G. Garrett.
“Our goal is to open on Friday the 11th,” he said Monday. “That is contingent on a Department of Cultural Affairs review of an updated reopening plan and so we have been working on getting all that right.
“We have to deal with the appropriate COVID-safe procedures to protect vendors and the public and at the same time we have to implement the standards by which the portal program normally operates,” he added.
If all goes well, he said, the setup will be a bit different than what customers and passers-by are accustomed to. All vendors are required to wear masks. They also have to maintain social distancing with six feet between vendor spaces.
As a result, instead of the usual number of vendors — 68 or 69 — only 51 vendors will be able to participate on any given day. And they will be spread out well beyond the space under the portal, winding around to spots on adjoining Washington and Lincoln avenues.
Artists will be chosen through a lottery system, which is used every day even in normal times, Garrett said.
Quintana said that is acceptable because the coronavirus remains a danger.
“More than anything we are happy we get the chance to go back,” she said. “So even if we lose some spaces, we’ll be out there again. I’m sure the state will open up more and more now that everyone is being vaccinated. We have to do the best we can until we get back to normal.”
Artists are not required to provide proof of vaccination, Garrett said.
“We are encouraging people to get vaccinated,” he said. “It’s the same sort of honor system we are working with throughout the state.”
Quintana said members of the Portal Committee were hoping artists would have to be vaccinated before coming back to sell on the Plaza.
“Artists have said they would feel safer if everyone got vaccinated,” she said.
Quintana said Zia Pueblo has a 92 percent vaccination rate, and she believes many pueblos are doing everything they can to vaccinate tribal residents.
The portal program has served as a cultural anchor for the city of Santa Fe for decades. The pandemic forced the artists to abandon the area in March 2020, giving the Plaza a half-naked look.
Garrett said both artists and customers and tourists are anxious to see that side of the Plaza spring back to life.
“The vendors are ready to sell, and the public is ready to have them there,” Garrett said, who stressed the plan has yet to be approved. “We are definitely wanting this to happen. It needs to happen in a safe and fair and equitable way.”
Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly identified Maya Quintana as being from Zuni Pueblo. She is from Zia Pueblo.