Now in its ninth decade, the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts’ Indian Market is the granddaddy of all Santa Fe art markets. It's the premiere gathering for the exhibition and sale of artworks by members of 220 US Federally recognized tribes and First Nations' tribes and, as of March 30, 2014, a ship in peril.
That was when Chief Operating Officer John Torres Nez resigned from his position. The announcement was made public a couple of days later, sending shock waves among longtime market artists and leaving many scratching their heads.
“This came as a complete shock,” SWAIA posted on their official Facebook page.
“John made this decision. He was not forced or coerced into resignation by anyone,” the bulletin continued. “This is a critical time for SWAIA preparing for the 2014 Indian Market. We want to assure all of you that things are going to continue moving forward.”
Rumors of cash flow difficulties, pay cuts and differences between Torres Nez and Chief Development Officer Charlene Porsild immediately followed. All the while, Torres has remained mum and thrown subtle hints as to what his next move will be.
“For legal reasons,” Torres Nez hasn't talked about what will come next.
“I will remain in my community and continue my work toward a world-renowned celebration of Native arts and culture owned by the People for the People,” he shared.
In what hints to that future move, a petition was launched this week on change.org by Phoenix-based artist Nanibaa Beck that aims to “To let the SWAIA/ BOD, artists, supporters, and general public know we declare our support of a New Market led by John Torres Nez.”
“The idea of the petition began last week. But there were still many questions about the reasons why John Torres Nez left and the possibilities of his reinstatement to SWAIA,” Beck tells SFR in an email. “After a few days following my letter of support for his reinstatement, it became clear that an amicable resolve would not be made.”
Beck then read and “absorbed” the social media comments and circulated a draft of the petition among those vocal around Torres Nez’ departure.
In an ideal world the petition, which has garnered 243 signatures since its inception, would create enough momentum “to reinstate John, to bring in a new board, to change their bylaws, and replace the CDO."
"But, sadly," the petition's manifesto continues, "we know these artists’ demands will not be met.”
So its call to action is to create a network of artists and other supporters to get behind the idea of a different kind of market, one led by Torres Nez.
Beck, whose father Victor Beck has been an Indian Market mainstay for 40 years, was looking forward to helming a booth that showcased her jewelry. For her, launching the petition was personal.
“This would have been my first year as an official SWAIA artist,” she says. “As someone who grew up behind the booth, I know what that means to my family.”
Beck worked closely with SWAIA as a summer associate in 2010. She describes the experience as a positive one.
“My research interests align perfectly with what SWAIA provides to Native artists: marketing and a place to sell Native-made items,” she says. “The relationship among the staff was akin to a family; it gave me enough trust that SWAIA had heart and a soul.”
Still, she’s confident support around the petition will shakeup the status quo.
“I hope the petition acts as a challenge to SWAIA because it needs to be challenged. The market hasn't been challenged since it overtook the Gallup Inter-tribal Ceremonial in the 1970s,” she says. “The Native art market within Santa Fe is pretty huge. The August event brings a lot of revenue to Santa Fe. So I imagine people have become complacent and have resided to accepting the behavior of the SWAIA Board.”
Beck says she loves the Native American arts community “too much to sit silent and not try.”
“It's taken 93 years and more to reach this point,” she says. “I do believe we are capable in creating something positively impressive.”