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Artists want new Indian Market, ex-COO back

Crowds flood the streets near Santa Fe Plaza during the 92nd Annual Indian Market on Aug. 17, 2013. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)
Crowds flood the streets near Santa Fe Plaza during the 92nd Annual Indian Market on Aug. 17, 2013. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)
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Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – More than 340 people have signed an online petition to form a new Santa Fe Indian Market led by John Torres Nez, who in late March resigned as chief operating officer from the Southwest Association for Indian Arts, which directs the market.

One online supporter posted that it was time the market and organization to be run by Native Americans. And another compared the current system to “economic imperialism on Native American artists.”

John Torres Nez resigned from the SWAIA in March.

John Torres Nez resigned from the SWAIA in March.

SWAIA’s board shot back Wednesday that a majority of its 13-member board is Native American and five are artists. Indian Market, a board statement said, is “a direct reflection of the lives of Native people and the communities they represent.”

The petition, on www.change.org, calls for a stable, fiscally responsible organization leading the annual market, at which many Native American artists make a large portion of their annual income.

“Ultimately, we want a new market that is stable in both organization and structure so that Native artists will have a livelihood for generations from now,” the petition states.

Elizabeth Pettus, a SWAIA board member, said Wednesday she had no comment on the specifics of the proposal. “There’s no reason why any idea couldn’t be floated,” she said. “I think every organization goes through changes during its whole lifetime. I think that’s a good thing.”

She added of plans for the upcoming Indian Market in August: “The market is going great guns. We’re getting terrific donations from people.”

Later, the board issued a written response calling the petition’s portrayal of the market management “an uninformed characterization.”

SWAIA “is unwavering in our commitment to Artists and the SWAIA family that values the continued accomplishments and future goals of our organization,” the statement said.

“While we continue the process of bringing on an interim manager, the Board of Directors (an overwhelming majority whom are Native American and five of whom are artists) are providing the leadership, as needed, to the staff and event volunteers.

“We remain in regular contact with our artists and will shortly have a full list of participating artists for this year’s Market who will showcase amazing work, making for another spectacular show.”

‘Let’s do this!!’

Torres Nez’s Facebook page includes a link to the petition that would have him heading an alternative market organization. “Let’s do this!!” he posted on the page.

Many artists have rallied behind Torres Nez since his resignation, which he said was related to his “fiduciary duties,” upon which he did not elaborate.

SWAIA has acknowledged it had cash flow difficulties, leading to a four-day workweek and reduction in pay for staffers, along with creation of a line of credit with a local bank, guaranteed personally by two of the organization’s board members. But the organization added that the situation is not unusual – cash flow is always seasonal with that organization. The SWAIA’s major activity is running the Santa Fe Indian Market.

The market is Santa Fe’s biggest annual event, with hundreds of native artisans selling on the Plaza and surrounding streets and attracting crowds of 80,000 to 100,000 people over an August weekend.

The petition calls for more direct artist involvement in board decisions, with a focus on the artists “and not the organization’s own branding,” as well as reworking “a Native arts market’s relationship with the City of Santa Fe that is benefiting for the artists.”

The board has contended, and said again Wednesday, that it had no idea Torres Nez intended to resign and had no discussion with him about leaving. SWAIA says Torres Nez “was not forced or coerced into resignation by anyone.”

However, the online petition claims that Torres Nez “informed the Board of financial problems and SWAIA’s systemic problems,” and the board failed to act and did not support him.

Focus on artists

Posters on Torres Nez’s Facebook page and on the petition website continue to call for major change at Indian Market. Monty Singer wrote: “It is time to put an end to SWAIA’s economic imperialism on Native American artists. … SWAIA is just an extension of the old trading post mentality, exploiting Native American artisans for their own gain. It’s time to revolt and give this back to the people.”

Cheryl Joe said, “I just feel that it’s about time we need a change. Oh, and one last thing… ‘Isn’t it about time that an organization that is for Native People is solely run by Native People?’ ”

SWAIA said Wednesday it does not collect any proceeds from artist sales. “This is a nonprofit organization which raises its modest operating budget every year without a percentage of artist sales. In return, the Santa Fe Indian Market provides a platform for established and aspiring Native/Indigenous artists to nurture and sell the art they create.”

This August, SWAIA said, “the event will again generate approximately $100 million in revenues for the City of Santa Fe and continue to highlight the beauty, elegance, and excitement of Native art.”

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