SANTA FE, N.M. — Back in the days when tourists started riding the rails that stretched into the West, Native Americans would flock to the railway stations to sell their handmade objects to visitors as they came and went.
Now, Native arts will be the destination for tourists riding up on the Rail Runner from Albuquerque and other points south, said John Torres Nez, when the Indigenous Fine Arts Market sets up shop in Santa Fe’s Railyard on Thursday through Aug. 23.
It’s come full circle, he said.
“We’re not just running to the train for the tourists,” he said. “They’re coming to us.”
This is the first year for IFAM. The new market group was formed earlier this year after Torres Nez, Tailinh Agoyo and Paula Rivera broke off from the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts, longtime sponsors of the Santa Fe Indian Market on the Plaza, which dates back to 1922.
IFAM plugs itself as “by the artists, for the artists,” stressing what it sees as a reconnection to artists who may have become alienated from SWAIA’s established way of doing things.
SWAIA officials have pointed out that their board includes a number of Native artists and their show provides a huge chunk of many artists’ annual income. But they have wished IFAM well, while also raising the question of how much money there is available to buy Native arts on one weekend in Santa Fe.
Torres Nez said that, after he left SWAIA as chief operating officer in the spring, he expected he would look for a job in teaching or museum work and never expected to tend to the birth of an alternative market. But he began to hear from more and more artists asking him to do just that, he said.
“They wanted more of a voice,” he said.
In response to their requests, he has eliminated a Sunday show to give artists a chance to get back home and get their kids ready for school on Monday, and started the show on Thursday to give the artists themselves a jump on the galleries that might be opening exhibits that Friday.
Also, while SWAIA channels artists into specific categories, such as pottery or weavings, IFAM will allow artists to show a whole range of their work in different mediums, he said.
“To be pigeon-holed in one medium for an artist is tough,” Agoyo said. “The quality of work in every medium has been amazing.”
Tony Fernandez, coordinator for the Contemporary Hispanic Market, said recently that IFAM reminds him of what happened when his market separated itself from the Traditional Spanish Market. In that case, artists wanted to expand beyond the Spanish Colonial styles and categories mandated by that market.
Torres Nez said that isn’t the first time he has heard that comparison.
“A lot of artists felt they didn’t have a voice,” he said. “Artists wanted to do something different.”
To him, the definition of Native American art is simple. It doesn’t have anything to do with subject matter or medium or style. In a recent meeting, Torres Nez answered the question by motioning to the hands of artists gathered around a table. If it’s made by a Native American, then it’s Native art, he said.
Staff working for free
In creating the new show, the IFAM staff so far has been working without pay, according to Torres Nez, supporting themselves with other work on the side.
“A lot of artists have been really generous with donations and in helping us organize events,” he said. But IFAM is waiting for the right time and place to raise funds by auctioning off donated work, he added.
Booth fees from the market also will bring in revenue, but artists will keep all the money from the sales of their work, he said.
And a successful market should attract some corporate sponsorships down the road, he added.
About 300 artists will participate in the show, with some three dozen of them also participating in Indian Market, according to Torres Nez. Those with booths in both markets will be located in the area of the Railyard near the water tank, where they will lose their IFAM space on Saturday to the Santa Fe Farmers Market. The remainder will be located in the causeway through Railyard Park, where the stage also will be set up for entertainment and events.
From noon-4 p.m. each day, the stage will feature traditional music and dance, while the style will go contemporary from 4-7 p.m.
“We’re gonna get everybody dancing,” enthused Agoyo.
Greater expansions already are being eyed. A winter market is in the works and galleries from around the world, such as Tokyo and Berlin, have contacted Torres Nez about the possibility of sending artists and their works for exhibitions there, he said.
“Maybe they would be medium-specific,” he said of such exhibits, mentioning that Germans seem to particularly like Plains Indian beadwork, while the Japanese are keen on Native American jewelry.
“The longterm plan is for IFAM to go global,” Agoyo said. “Our next stop will be Albuquerque.”
That show is tentatively scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend and there is talk about partnering with Spanish Market’s winter show in Albuquerque, said Torres Nez.