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SWAIA resignations: Supporting Native artists during a time of chaos in Santa Fe

Will SWAIA resignations affect Santa Fe Indian Market?
Will SWAIA resignations affect Santa Fe Indian Market?
Elizabeth R. Rose

You may or may not have heard that three key staff members of the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA) have resigned stating differences with the direction and the ethics of the organization.

SWAIA is important because it is the organization that puts on Santa Fe’s internationally known Indian Market. This is a major event for Santa Fe and for the 1,000 artists that greet their customers and collectors at the Santa Fe Plaza every August. I've been a regular at Indian Market and supporter of Native arts and artists for years.

So what do we know? On March 31st, John Torres Nez surprised everyone by resigning. Torres Nez was the Chief Operating Officer of SWAIA. He was hired in 2012. He cited concern about the financial status of the organization.

Soon after that a petition appeared on change.org placed by Phoenix Native American artist Nanibaa Beck. The introduction states, in part, “To let the SWAIA/ BOD, artists, supporters, and general public know we declare our support of a New Market led by John Torres Nez.” To date, the petition has garnered 454 supporters.

Several weeks later Tailinh Agoyo, the marketing and public relations director for SWAIA, wrote, “My heart is broken. I cannot believe it has come to this.” She resigned.

On April 25th, Paula Rivera, the Indian Market manager and artist services associate resigned. She had been with SWAIA for five years.

Rivera wrote. “Unfortunately, my vision is not aligned with the SWAIA board or that of the CBDO. I do not support the current direction of Santa Fe Indian Market and because of this I must present my resignation today. I leave with a heavy heart.”

Their resignation letters and comments have appeared on Facebook and in the media. Reactions have been mixed with Native artists caught in the middle. Some wonder whether they should be paying their Indian Market booth fees. Some are supportive of SWAIA and some are supportive of a new market with new leadership.

SWAIA created a special website to address the changes, the rumors and the concerns about their financial situation.

Rising from this chaos of change and disappointment has been a surprising development. Key players have gathered together to create a plan for a new market. Currently the working name is Indigenous Fine Art Market (IFAM.) On Facebook, which seems to be the chosen way to communicate during these changes, Navajo artist Darryl Dean Begay wrote, "It's a new day, a new era, a new hope, Indigenous Fine Art Market, is here! More details will follow and on May 2nd IFAM website and FB will go up. Indigenous Art at its finest." The Facebook page is currently available. Follow their efforts.

Throughout this, it is important to focus on what is important... Native culture, Native artists and their art. While many artists who show at the Santa Fe Indian Market are very successful and travel widely to sell to collectors, there are the local artists.. traditional potters, weavers, silversmiths, who rely on a successful market in Santa Fe to gather, sell their work and earn money to support their families, often for the entire year.

If the focus is on the Native artists, all the artists, the outcome will be a worthy one. I'll be keeping everyone updated on these events in the months to come.