SANTA FE, N.M. — In a room filled with Native artists, the board chair of the Southwestern Association of Indian Arts last year warned that without better financial support, its world-famous Indian Market could cease to exist in the not-too-distant future.
At the time, Elizabeth Kirk cited a lack of Market artists paying membership dues and a shortage of financial support from tribes, pueblos, and local and state governments.
Earlier this month, Kirk told the Journal there hasn’t been “drastic” improvement since 2018 and SWAIA is now looking for new funding sources.
“Depending on how these avenues are working out, if they come to fruition, it’ll definitely change things,” Kirk told the Journal.
She says a change of venue for the 98-year-old market, from Santa Fe to somewhere else, is not being considered at the moment. But Kirk said that after the news circulated last year of the organization’s financial problems, other cities and states expressed interest in hosting the world’s largest Native art market.
She said it’s a shame things have come to this point. Given the money Indian Market brings in locally, Kirk said, “there should be more being done to ensure the longevity of the organization and the show itself,” Kirk said.
Indian Market attracts an estimated 150,000 people annually and a recent study commissioned by Santa Fe’s tourism bureau estimated Indian Market’s economic impact for northern New Mexico – including Albuquerque and cities north of it – at $165 million. That includes art sales, spending on hotel rooms, at restaurants and on shop purchases, and other factors, according to SWAIA spokesperson Amanda Crocker. The study was done by Southwest Planning and Marketing of Santa Fe, Crocker said
Kirk – who will be stepping down as SWAIA board chair later this year due to term limits for the position – said that the board has been looking into applying for grants from national organizations. She said she’s recently spoken with officials at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., which she hopes will help sponsor Indian Market’s centennial event in 2021.
“It’s just becoming a little more savvy and approaching different people, mostly outside of Santa Fe,” she said.
Kirk also noted that SWAIA leadership met with new Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham earlier this year to discuss a variety of topics. Kirk described the governor as welcoming and said she offered a liaison to work with SWAIA on what kinds of help the organization needs going forward.
“Those talks are going to continue, from my understanding,” she said.
Last year, when speaking to artists, Kirk said only one Native tribe, nation, or pueblo was supporting SWAIA: The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. She said this year Tesuque Pueblo has come on board, but it’s still less than the seven entities that provided funding just a few years ago. Kirk cited the changing of leadership every two years for many tribes as a reason securing long-term support can be difficult.
“You just have to get in there with the right people to let them know what your organization is doing for their people,” she said about obtaining tribal support.
One difference between SWAIA’s market and others around the country is that the approximately 900 participating artists are not required to pay dues to SWAIA.
Last year, she said, only about 13 paid dues. This year, she said it’s up to 25 or 30. She noted that if 900 artists paid a $75 annual membership dues, SWAIA’s lowest tier for membership entry, it would bring in $67,500.
“With that … we could hire a development director or a development person,” she said. She said the idea of making membership mandatory for market participation has been discussed for several years, but it’s never been pursued.
Currently, she said, the six-person staff solicits donations big and small from “everyone under the sun” to help fund the $1.3 million market.
Beyond the donations, Indian Market is paid for through the market’s auctions, best-of-show luncheon, booth fees, merchandise and tickets for events like the Haute Couture fashion show.
As for city and state support, Kirk took issue with the lack of Santa Fe businesses supporting the organization, given the tourism dollars that the market brings in.
She said the Santa Fe Arts Commission is providing $50,000 for Indian Market under a cultural event marketing grant. State-affiliated organizations like the New Mexico True tourism campaign and New Mexico Arts provide about $6,000 each, she said.
Governor’s office spokesperson Tripp Stelnicki said in an email that the state is “happy to support” SWAIA through New Mexico Arts, the state’s grant-giving body for arts organizations, and that the state’s Department of Cultural Affairs offers assistance to organizations like SWAIA with applications for the funding.
But Kirk said in an email that the grant money and aid is small in comparison to the revenue Indian Market brings in for the city and state. Still, she noted that this year there have been meaningful sit-down conversations with both state leaders and Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber.
“I understand both bodies are under pressure with spending, but I see the organization as an investment,” Kirk wrote.
Asked if the city has or would consider providing more support for Indian Market, Webber said the city government has been open to discussions with SWAIA and any other groups producing community events. He added that city staff can also be used as a “thinking partner” to help an organization consider new strategies for development.
City spokesperson Lilia Chacon also referred to the city’s $50,000 Global Arts Marketing grant for Indian Market as “sizable” and one of the largest arts grants.
“I think that Indian Market is really a phenomenal and enduring part of the city, and we’re eager for them to succeed and happy to help in ways that will be constructive for them, whether its financial or opening up new avenues of promotion,” Webber said.
“I think what has been created over the past almost 100 years is an incredible statement about Santa Fe and the Native community.”
Something that Kirk wants the public to understand, which she said could help SWAIA receive the support it needs, is that the nonprofit’s scope goes beyond its artisan markets. She said SWAIA’s small staff also works with artists year-round, including going into schools and working with Native youth.
“The organization is bigger than just the show and I think we need to get back to that,” said Kirk. “It’s not just about Indian Market, it’s about how the organization is about raising people above where they are.”