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Santa Fe market cancellations hit artisans hard

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Thousands of people wander along the booths on Lincoln Avenue during the annual Santa Fe Indian Market. The market has been postponed until 2021 because of the COVID-19 outbreak. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

City of Santa Fe officials are trying to put the best face on the cancellation of three key summer markets due to the coronavirus outbreak, but there’s no denying the body blow to the local and state economy.

Of course, it goes without saying that public safety is the first concern, but the decisions to cancel the Santa Fe Indian Market, the International Folk Art Market and the Traditional Spanish Market will result in untold suffering both for artists and vendors in New Mexico and for artisans from around the globe.

The loss of the markets will also inevitably cause serious damage to restaurants, retailers, galleries and hotels in Santa Fe. But Randy Randall, director of tourism for the city of Santa Fe, remains optimistic about the summer tourist season.

“We will have a good summer even without the markets as Santa Fe has so much else to offer. The markets are really just three out of 52 terrific weekends,” he said.

Measuring market value

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s emergency order closing down all but essential businesses remains in place until April 30. The markets were to have taken place in July and August. That’s also the time frame for the Santa Fe Opera, which has not pulled the plug on its 2020 season, slated for July 3 through Aug. 29.

Elly O’Connor was one of 44 youth artists selling their wares during the Traditional Spanish Market in 2019. The market will not be held this year because of the coronavirus. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

According to Randall, the economic impact of Indian Market is about $50 million, excluding sales by artists. That event brings close to 60,000 visitors to the city. The International Folk Art Market has an economic impact of $18 million, including vendor sales, and draws 20,000 visitors, he said.

While the Traditional Spanish Market attracts 40,000 to 50,000 visitors, Tourism Santa Fe can’t put a value on the event because the Spanish Colonial Arts Society declined to participate in a city-sponsored study.

The Santa Fe Opera has a direct economic impact on the state of New Mexico of more than $200 million and draws 90,000 visitors annually, according to the Opera’s figures.

Reframing the picture

The governor’s stay-at-home order also has affected the museums, historic sites and cultural institutions run by the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, including such popular venues as the New Mexico Museum of Art on the Santa Fe Plaza, the Museum of International Folk Art on Museum Hill and the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque.

Debra Garcia y Griego, cabinet secretary for the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs.

In a telephone interview, Debra Garcia y Griego, cabinet secretary for the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, didn’t mince words in discussing the impact of coronavirus on the state’s arts economy.

“In the short term, artists and creative industry workers have lost the majority of their revenues. We’re grateful for funding (at the state and federal level) that is available. It’s vital to seeing artists and nonprofits through this difficult time,” Garcia y Griego said.

“In the long term, it will take several years to understand the impact of COVID-19,” she added.

The disruption to the state’s cultural economy “will result in the reframing of longstanding events, and in creative workers finding new ways to reach their patrons and customers,” Garcia y Griego said.

As the former director of the Santa Fe Arts Commission, Garcia y Griego has a unique perspective on arts in the Land of Enchantment, having administered programs at both the city and the state level.

While not underplaying the harsh reality of market cancellations and museum closures on arts workers, Garcia y Griego sees a silver lining for New Mexico’s culture industry: It will force museums, galleries and artists to embrace new technology that will help them reach more customers than they could by merely showing off their wares at markets and galleries.

Garcia y Griego pointed to the Poeh Cultural Center in Pojoaque as a Native-run arts group that is moving quickly to embrace online programming.

“It’s great to see people moving and exploring new ideas in the crisis,” she said. “We’re going to be better on the other side.”

She said the shift to online programming is already happening within the Department of Cultural Affairs, which has an operating budget of $32.9 million for the current fiscal year.

For instance, the National Hispanic Cultural Center is starting an online series exploring what the museum staff collects in their own homes and is posting to keep people connected to such recurring programs as the Happy Arte Hour and Vamos al Museo.

On April 10, the Department of Cultural Affairs kicked off a series of virtual concerts under the banner of “Our Fair New Mexico” featuring New Mexican musicians. The first concert was headlined by New Mexico State Historian Rob Martinez, whose family has deep roots in the state’s music scene.

Starving artists

A 2014 study by UNM’s Bureau of Business & Economic Research that was commissioned by the Department of Cultural Affairs sheds some light on how high the stakes are for New Mexico.

Though the numbers are outdated, the comprehensive study paints a compelling portrait of the importance of artists, artisans and vendors to the state’s economy.

Chief Nickson Parmisa from Kenya helped Carolyn Handeland of Santa Fe try on beadwork made by women in his tribe at the International Folk Art Market in 2019. The 2020 market has been canceled because of coronavirus concerns. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

At the time, arts and cultural industries broadly defined – including people employed in cultural tourism, art and cultural education and industries linked to the culture of the state – accounted for nearly one in 10 jobs in New Mexico. Specifically, the study found the state’s arts and cultural industries employed 76,780 persons.

According to the study, the arts and cultural sector contributed $5.6 billion a year to New Mexico’s economy, with $2.2 billion in wages and salaries paid to cultural workers annually.

“New Mexicans are, to a much greater extent than residents of other states, employed professionally as artists and artisans, in galleries and museums, and in other activities and industries most closely associated with the creative aspects of arts and culture,” said the study, which was conducted under the leadership of Jeffrey Mitchell of UNM’s BBER.

Unfortunately, many of these jobs are low paying. Arts and culture workers earned an average annual salary of $29,349, compared to a national average of $48,860 for similar workers, at the time the study was done.

The study noted that New Mexicans were far less likely than their counterparts in other states to be employed in rapidly growing and higher paying applied fields, such as media, advertising and software publishing.