Bruce Bernstein has been executive director of the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA) since December 2007, but has been associated with the Santa Fe Indian Market as a board member, judge and volunteer for 30 years. SWAIA holds its annual awards ceremony at Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino, June 4 (5:30-9 pm, $50; for tickets call 505-983-5220). This year’s Indian Market is Aug. 22-23.
SFR: More people have heard of Indian Market than SWAIA. What is SWAIA’s role?
BB: Our job here at SWAIA is to build the common platform under Indian Market, and I think the platform needs to continue to be sturdy; it needs to expand. Native arts, and the Native vision of the world, is constantly being revised, whether it’s a new art form or media or the types of ways in which people use a traditional art form, like pottery.
What has changed about Indian Market since it was started in the ’20s?
Market has always been about authenticity. I think at the beginning years of market, however, authenticity was a concept that the non-Native world placed on the Native people. Today, what authenticity means for market is that Native people can tell us who they are. Those boundaries and barriers, the preconceived notions, melt away.
How has the organization’s attitude toward artists evolved?
In the ’20s, at the beginning of market, there were paternalistic aspects to the way the markets were run. For example, the way the organization worked with artists was a sort of ‘teacher-pupil’ relationship, whereas now we’re much more peer-to-peer. Now, there is no longer that paternal sense of, ‘We’re doing this for you.’ That is something of the past that no one wants anymore.
This year’s poster, which features jewelry by Taos artist Maria Samora, is only the fourth Indian Market poster with artwork made by a woman, and it’s also a very contemporary style.
We realized, with Maria as the poster artist, that if she had submitted that work around the time she was born, she would not have been allowed in market. The poster is metaphoric in the sense that we, SWAIA, are always trailing behind the artists. We’re always sprinting, trying to catch up. The poster represents that commitment to Native people telling us who they are…
What happens at the June 4 award ceremony?
The honoring reception is the one time of year where we really stop, slow things down and honor individuals, and talk about the deeper meanings of Native arts and culture. That evening, we have five fellowships to artists to improve their work any way they see the work needing improving, and we also provide two types of honoring awards, one to artists and one to people in support of the arts.
You describe Indian Market as ‘local,’ but thousands of tourists travel to town to attend the event.
About 45 percent of Indian Market artists live here in Santa Fe or in the Santa Fe region. It’s not like some other events that come, and those vendors go away, back to where they’re from. These monies stay here but, more importantly, these ideas stay here.
I think a lot of locals see Indian Market as the same every year.
Market has continually evolved for almost nine decades, and every year there are new things that go on. When Maria Martinez, in the first market, put out her black-on-black pottery, it was so innovative that it wasn’t judged with the rest of the market. A black-on-black piece of pottery didn’t receive an award until 1925, the third year of market. There’s been a constant refreshment, and I think the only thing that’s different now is our acknowledgement of that continual refreshment…
So, why should locals keep going to Indian Market?
I think maybe some people have a love-hate relationship with market. It is so big and so successful, people tend to dismiss it at times, but I think what they love about it is its immediacy…you’re not in a building, you’re not in some fenced-off area, you don’t pay to get in. Market is like life itself in the sense that you can’t go to market and understand and take it all in the first time. Every time you go, you learn something new, you see something different. I think that’s one of its terrific powers.