The two sets of COVID-safe restrictions on the Santa Fe Plaza don’t make much sense to Navajo jeweler Patricia Anderson. And they don’t make much sense to us, either.
On the one hand, Santa Fe vendors are no longer subject to social distancing and mask mandates. But literally just across West Palace Avenue, artists at the Native American Artisan Portal Program are still forced to keep a COVID-19 safe distance, meaning fewer sellers allowed – even though the same crowd shops on both sides.
A spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs says the Native American Artisans Portal Program Committee and the New Mexico History Museum, which oversees the portal program, can run the program “however they see fit.” Except as folks from the committee, the museum and even the Governor’s Office see it, it’s up to Cultural Affairs.
Caught up in the finger pointing are Anderson and 20 other Native American artists who were turned away last week because they, apparently, sell on the wrong side of the street.
And while the museum recently reduced the distance between seller spaces on the plaza from 6 feet to 3, increasing vendors from 22 to 34, that’s still a far cry from the 68 spaces normally available underneath the portal.
The pandemic has been tough on many N.M. business people, and area Native American artists lost their storefronts, so to speak, when the pandemic shuttered the portal. For the first time in over a year, some were allowed to resume selling their wares at the Palace of the Governors just last week. Maya Quintana, chairwoman of the Native American Artisans Portal Program Committee, says if the portal program had been operating under normal circumstances, none of those 21 would have been turned away.
The artists need the income from their craft to survive, and the state needs the fruit of their labors for tourism. Out of simple fairness it’s time to fully reopen the Native American Artisan Portal Program, without restrictions.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.