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Jonathan Sims is a media producer and former appointed official at the Pueblo of Acoma. He covers news and writes a column on Indigenous People's issues for The Paper.

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The calendar days continue to pass, and we are well into another year of COVID. As restrictions in states surrounding us begin to ease, it’s becoming harder for some businesses and organizations to make a clear call as to how to proceed in their work. Arts organizations have been impacted enormously, as well as the artists themselves. Santa Fe Indian Market, run by the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts, is the granddaddy of all Indian arts shows. It boasts millions of dollars in revenue for the City of Santa Fe and is the livelihood of countless artists. In recent years the upstart “Free Indian Market” founded by Dr. Gregory Schaaf has grown in size and status to become an alternative for artists who did not find their way into the juried SWAIA Indian Market or who wanted to show in a different venue.


These art shows were in a tough spot last August as COVID numbers held firm in N.M. SWAIA went virtual and attempted the first large-scale online Indian art show in history. The long-standing organization provided internet resources and even contracted tech-savvy local artists to help those less tech-inclined to navigate building a website, videos and creating high-quality images of their work. Dr. Schaaf and his group used the resources and time at their disposal to concentrate on community outreach, handing out thousands of personal protection equipment packages to tribal communities in N.M. and Arizona during the height of the pandemic. But no matter the efforts, it was a severe hit for many artists who show at SWAIA’s Indian Market and the Free Indian Market in 2020.


Now it’s March 2021, and for those in the know, it would be the planning time for August events of this scale to begin. Educated guesses at this point are as valid as looking into a crystal ball. The Free Indian Market this week publicly started this conversation by posting a question on social media: “Maybe we can make sure all the artists are vaccinated?” This idea stirred the pot and was immediately shot down and removed.


Legal precedent was set this week in federal court when a lawsuit filed by a state corrections officer in Las Cruces sued the county seeking an injunction from receiving the vaccine. Arguments included federal law requiring disclosures to individuals about an unapproved product, including risks and benefits with “the option to accept or refuse administration of the product.” The judge threw out the case last week, but not on the grounds of the legality of the COVID vaccine, since all three vaccine makers have been approved by the FDA. Rather, the officer lacked evidence proving he would be reprimanded for refusing the vaccine.

Currently, the FDA website says, “the FDA does not mandate vaccination. However, whether a state, local government or employer, for example, may require or mandate COVID-19 vaccination is a matter of state or other applicable law.” The website also says that the FDA must ensure that recipients of the vaccine are informed “of the known and potential benefits and risks, the extent to which such benefits and risks are unknown, that they have the option to accept or refuse the vaccine, and of any available alternatives to the product.”

Dr. Schaaf isn’t about to toss in his vaccination card just yet, maintaining it will be useful as a way to gauge the safety of those in enclosed spaces. “For now we will continue to encourage people to get the vaccine; we will continue to hand out masks,” said Schaaf. “Our show has always been built for the artist. Many artists have not had an income for nearly a year and a half. The people need this show to bring the money into the pueblos and support those artists. That money is what supports those families and importantly supports the culture, ceremonies and languages continuance in each community.”

Dr. Schaff also thanked the volunteers. “We are extending our arms to everyone that wants to help. We have many creative people in our circles. We all understand what it is to respect our elders, so we need to find creative ways for Native artists and Native people to live their lives and continue traditional life ways and make a living.”

SWAIA may have successfully implemented a “virtual market” last year, but nothing can compete with direct, hand-to-hand sales. Jewelry and small pieces sell well, whereas art forms like large pottery and sculpture may not sell as well because of shipping costs and the inability to see the detail in person.

SWAIA did not return The Paper’s. requests for comment. They released a public statement from Kimberly A. Peone, SWAIA Director: “As we look forward to the summer months, we are receiving inquiries regarding the SWAIA Santa Fe Indian Market, 2021. We are currently examining the viability of a live market for 2021. SWAIA has been actively engaged with the City of Santa Fe task force, discussing protocols needed for COVID-Safe practices, if an event were to be held. The task force submitted recommendations to the State of New Mexico and is awaiting review and response. Should the State approve outdoor events, SWAIA will move forward with planning the framework and mandates provided. In the meantime, I will be presenting a draft of our recommendations to the SWAIA Board of Directors.” Peone ends the letter stating, “We are tentatively scheduled to make a decision about Santa Fe Indian Market in early April, 2021. Until then, we continue to work towards a digital marketplace to support SWAIA artists virtually.”


No matter how each of these markets ends up running in 2021, the message is clear: Artists need support. Many have not been able to make a living like normal this year, and it is time for the organizations that support them to begin the conversations needed to help bring in much-needed income. There are new ways of reaching out virtually and modifying the traditional “show” to meet the needs of today’s art sellers and art buyers.

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