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Departing SWAIA staffers launch new market for Native artists

SANTA FE — Staffers leaving the group that runs the 93-year-old Santa Fe Indian Market are launching an alternative, artist-oriented market to be held at the same time as the traditional one.

Officers of the new organization include president John Torres Nez, the former chief operating officer at the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts; along with Paula Rivera, director of program operations, and Tailinh Agoyo, director of marketing and creative services.

The three, all Native Americans, resigned from their jobs at SWAIA within the last few weeks, citing problems with the board and financial issues, but haven’t offered a lot of detail. Their departures came as the SWAIA board had cut hours and pay for staffers in an attempt to trim spending.

Agoyo said the Indigenous Fine Art Market will run Aug. 21-23 and it will be in Santa Fe. She said a location has been finalized, but she declined to reveal it immediately.

“This started in a conversation with John (Torres Nez) and artists interested in doing something different,” she said of the new market. “This has kind of been a positive movement for change.

“We have a different vision” from the market run by SWAIA, she said, adding that the difference is “that artists will have a voice in how the market is produced.”

But Roger Fragua, a member of Jemez Pueblo who is vice chair of the SWAIA board, said that SWAIA’s mission has always been to support Indian artists, some 1,100 of whom take part in Indian Market.

Calling art “the economic miner’s canary,” Fragua said he expects the new market will find it a challenge to find buyers. “I hope there are enough buyers to go around for all the art this is planned to be sold,” he said.

Board chairman Stockton Colt echoed those concerns. “I wish him (Torres Nez) luck and I hope it works for him — but I wish he picked a different weekend,” Colt said. “There are only so many buyers to go around and so many dollars.”

The new Indigenous Fine Arts Market will include stages for performances and will be “a juried art show with very high-quality native arts,” Agoyo said. “Hundreds” of artists have expressed interest in taking part, she added.

The organization is set up as a limited liability company, she said, and will not have a board overseeing its operations. Agoyo also declined to comment on where the funding will come from.

After Torres Nez resigned from SWAIA, some artists started an online petition drive calling for a new market. Some said it needed to be run by and for Native Americans.

SWAIA has countered that a majority of its 13-member board is native.

Indian Market is Santa Fe’s biggest annual event, attracting 80,000 to 100,000 people to hundreds of artist booths on the downtown Plaza and nearby streets.