The New (Virtual) Reality at the Santa Fe Indian Market
August 25, 2020

The New (Virtual) Reality at the Santa Fe Indian Market

Banner image: Timeless Medicine (2020) Ink and colored pencil on antique ledger paper by Terran Last Gun.

Roaming dirt roads, paddling canoes, exploring the woods, and flinging water droplets in the Great Lakes,

Delina White’s (Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Minnesota Chippewa Tribe) SWAIA (Southwestern Association for Indian Arts) fashion show is vastly different in 2020. Her company, “I Am Anishinaabe,” first hit the runway last year at the 2019 Santa Fe Indian Market’s SWAIA Haute Couture Fashion Show.

She watched her creations showcased under dramatic lights and surrounded by theatre of music. This year, due to the COVID-19 shutdown, Delina, a 2020 First Peoples Fund (FPF) Artists in Business Leadership fellow, had to get creative with how she would introduce audiences to her woodland floral Sunrise and Sunset Collections.

Now in it’s 99th year, Santa Fe Indian Market has been a long-standing tradition for nearly 1,000 Native artists and more than 100,000 visitors who annually travel to the small, northern New Mexico town known worldwide for its incredible arts scene and Southwestern beauty. Many of the artists spend a year preparing to showcase and sell their work, reconnect with old friends and gain access to art collectors and buyers from all over the world. For many, this is their highest earning artshow of the year. However, with the spread of COVID-19, the SWAIA leadership converted this much anticipated annual event to a virtual gathering, providing artists with a new, yet sometimes foreign opportunity to participate online. And this time for the entire month of August rather than just for the typical weekend that was always chock full of events including a curated art show, panel discussions, fashion show, auctions, receptions and an awards ceremony.

For the Virtual Fashion Show, Delina pulled together a full crew with cinematographer, hair and makeup artists, and models for a video shoot to present her art.

“We went to a swimming beach down the road from my house,” she says. “Everything was taken on the main road in my community, the Leech Lake Reservation. We went down to the beach, and there happened to be kids from the community swimming. I encouraged them to get in the video, start splashing, and have a good time. Each little vignette is just a couple seconds, but it gives you a good feeling.”

Delina has kept herself busy during this summer market season by developing her business infrastructure through setting up better accounting methods, adding social media links to her website and vice versa, sewing custom orders, and preparing for sales derived through her virtual SWAIA booth.

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1. Delina White. Photgrapher: Gozy White 2. Sunrise Smokehide 3. Sunset Red Chiffon

Terran Last Gun, a Piikani (Blackfeet) citizen and printmaker, is another 2020 FPF Artists in Business Leadership fellow breaking new ground with his efforts to go virtual.

“I’ve learned so much in terms of how to market myself online,” he says. “After I got laid off in March, I had to think quickly and creatively. I was sort of doing online marketing, but after I really started pushing it, that’s when the purchases started coming in. Free shipping helps, and also knowing your value and worth. How much are you charging for art? Does it work out to do free shipping?”

“I’ve constantly had to go back to the drawing board and think about the long run.”

— Terran Last Gun

Terran is staying busy fielding increased traffic to his website, mostly buyers who visited his virtual booth at the Indian Market. A resident of Santa Fe, this is his second time participating.

“It’s nice to know these new people have found me on SWAIA,” he says. “The person I delivered a work to locally was impressed with my website. That was good to hear.”

He also has solo shows going. The Lloyd Kiva New Gallery at the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA) booked him for an exhibit in August, leaving him with an ambitious 16 ledger pieces to create. Although the museum is closed, the store is open and allows people to visit and enjoy an exhibit.

The Old Ones Are Near (2020) - Ink and colored pencil on antique ledger paper by Terran Last Gun

Not all artists opted to participate and pay for a virtual booth at the 2020 Santa Fe Indian Market. Wade Patton (Oglala Lakota), 2017 FPF Artists in Business Leadership fellow, is hard at work maximizing every free and low-cost option for marketing his work. Since the pandemic started, he has plunged deep into digital marketing, creating his own virtual shows. He also presented a webinar for the “On the Road with Rolling Rez Arts” series, demonstrating how to matte and frame artwork.

“I’ve been doing a lot of social media, especially Instagram Live,” he says. “Each art show gets easier and easier. With social media being a free platform, why not take advantage of it?”

It took a few days for his live videos to spark interest, but people began responding with orders. Wade is now shipping his ledger art across the U.S. and into the U.K.

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1. The old Ones Are Near (2020) Ink and colored pencil on antique ledger paper by Terran Last Gun 2. Theresa's 1920 Replica Woven Glove Box won "Best of Basketry" at the 2020 Virtual Santa Fe Indian Market.

“I’ve done three virtual shows so far,” he says. “The third one, I got together with seven local artists. We met in Red Shirt Table (on the Pine Ridge Reservation) one afternoon to feature music and visual art. It was a good time. I’m just surviving as an artist and what we have to do in this virtual time.”

Wade set up a booth on Instagram Live to debut a new beaded cuff during the week he would have been in Santa Fe.

Jason Brown (Penobscot) is another artist who opted out of the virtual SWAIA experience. A 2016 FPF Artists in Business Leadership fellow, he and his wife own and operate a jewelry and fashion studio, Decontie & Brown.

“We are taking this opportunity to focus on some other areas of creativity that we normally would not have time to do,” Jason says. “Since the onset of the pandemic, we have been hosting our own live showcases, and they have been very popular!”

Technology and Internet access are significant issues for many Native artists, as they navigate the digital art show and marketing world. Theresa Secord (Penobscot), FPF Community Spirit Award honoree and Native Artist Professional Development trainer, expressed her thoughts in a recent Facebook post:

“I’ll miss being in the storied 99th Santa Fe Indian Market next weekend, though I’m thankful to SWAIA for the virtual market experience! I’m reminded, however, by a recent interview with another artist, how personal I think my work, my interactions/sales with collector friends and visitors [is] to my booth. They like to hold and smell my baskets with the beautiful aromas of sweet grass cedar bark and ash wood, ask questions, chit chat, and reconnect as friends, etc. It’s taking a little time to transition to thinking about my art pieces, lovingly crafted for hours, days, perhaps weeks - being clicked on, dropped into a shopping cart, and mailed off into space without any interaction at all. I’ve heard a number of people say, “Native artists need to get with the times and get with the technology.” Yet I just want to share there’s more to it...many facets involved in this digital transition. We should be patient with ourselves and others, as we continue to move into the e-commerce world and find our own places there. It’s definitely a process for me!”

“We’re all at different stages, needing to find our own spaces in the virtual market place. We should continue to be respectful of those who take their time getting there or who don’t ever go there.”

She added, “We’re all at different stages, needing to find our own spaces in the virtual market place. We should continue to be respectful of those who take their time getting there or who don’t ever go there.”

Theresa’s 1920 Replica Woven Glove Box won “Best of Basketry” at the 2020 Virtual Santa Fe Indian Market.

There are many unknowns still ahead for Native artists, but they are forging ahead with resilient spirits. Delina is already preparing for the 2021 SWAIA.

“Next year, I’ll automatically be accepted [due to this year’s cancellations],” she says. “I guess that’s a positive thing that happened even though it was sad that we didn’t get to go to Santa Fe. But you always have to find that silver lining. And for me, it’s having more time to get the collection done for next year.”

We invite you to visit the virtual booths of all FPF family of artists participating in SWAIA 2020:

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