A performance at 2019 Indian Market (photo by Gabriella Marks, courtesy SWAIA)

SANTA FE — Every August, the arrival of Indian Market brings an explosion of life to Santa Fe. Sponsored by the nonprofit Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA), Indian Market is estimated to bring $160 million in revenue to the state of New Mexico, and north of 115,000 visitors to its host city. Over the weekend, SWAIA announced that the 99th annual Indian Market, which was scheduled for August 15-16, has been postponed until 2021 due to the novel coronavirus. The 2021 celebration, which was the centennial event, will instead take place in 2022.

In a letter from SWAIA, chairman Thomas Teegarden noted that all artists who have been accepted for this year will automatically be accepted into the 2021 market. Those who have paid booth fees may either apply their fees to the 2021 market or receive a refund.

Artist and SWAIA board member Dominique Toya said: “This is a difficult decision because Indian Market is a big part of my livelihood, but it is more important to protect the well-being of fellow artists, their families, our customers, and all of our communities.”

Toya is far from the only artist for whom the postponement is a major financial blow. Over 1,000 Native artists, from more than 220 US federally recognized and First Nations tribes, sell their work at Indian Market, and many artists rely heavily on the event for their annual income.

Jessa Rae Growing Thunder has been going to Indian Market since she was just a week old, and her family has attended every year for over 30 years. “It’s a family tradition,” she told Hyperallergic. “I’m a total Indian Market kid.”

2019 Indian Market (photo by Gabriella Marks, courtesy SWAIA)

Growing Thunder said that she and her family members work all year long in preparation for Indian Market. “This is where we make a majority of our income for the year. Many of us are full time artists. It’s a blessing to be a full time artist, especially a Native artist that gets to practice traditional art forms. As big of a blessing as that is, when something like this happens it’s definitely shocking.”

Teegarden told Hyperallergic that while the economic concerns were a factor in SWAIA’s decision to postpone, the health of the artists and visitors was the priority. “It was an excruciating decision for the board, because half of them are artisans and this is a huge part of their livelihood,” he said. “But we’re not counting dollars and cents, we’re looking at the health and protection of our people,” he said.

Reports show that Native populations are particularly vulnerable to the effects of the coronavirus, due to limited access to health care infrastructure and disparities in underlying conditions. Teegarden says an “awareness of hotspots in Indian country, and how vulnerable our populations are” was part of the decision-making process. “There is also the historical memory that 90% of the Native populations in the Americas was eliminated before the Europeans even saw those populations,” he added. “The diseases moved faster than the people did. So many of the traditions, the ties that bind in normal times, can be vectors for transmission of this unseen virus.”

Growing Thunder, for her part, says that though she and her family are disappointed and unsettled by the postponement, they understand the precautions being taken. They were also able to attend the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market in Phoenix in early March, which Growing Thunder says gave them a little leeway financially. “Now that Indian Market’s not happening, we have this moment to experiment,” she said. “Maybe this year I’ll get to try something completely different that I would never have done otherwise.”

The Haute Couture Fashion Show at 2019 Indian Market (photo by Gabriella Marks, courtesy SWAIA)

SWAIA is considering virtual alternatives for the market, to help supplement the income many artists will lose. Teegarden says they are looking to their community for ideas and suggestions, and asking: “how is our virtual market going to be more than a Native version of Amazon? It is a sensory delight, and that is the experience.” He hopes whatever virtual option is created retains some of the experiential, communal, and atmospheric elements of the in-person Indian Market. Artists, he noted, are well suited to come up with creative solutions to a problem like this one. “You can’t begin to predict the ideas that are going to start coming out.”

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