International Folk Art Market Joins Summer Cancellations

The last of the big three markets pulls the plug

First it was Indian Market, then came Traditional Spanish Market and now the International Folk Art Market, slated for this July, has announced its cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The news impacts more than 150 artists from 52 countries across the globe, all of whom will be automatically accepted into the 2021 market.

Market CEO Stuart Ashman says in a statement that market staff are "putting our energy and creativity into developing opportunities that support our artists this year," Ashman goes on to say that IFAM has a local economic impact of approximately $12.5 million, including hotels, restaurants, tourism and other services and, since its inception, has amassed roughly $34 million, most of which "went back home with artists."

Ashman talked to SFR about his current concerns, as well as the future of the market.

SFR: IFAM is still a ways off. Why make this decision now?

We had been pondering this for the last two weeks or so. The predictions you see in the media about the virus don't look like it would be possible. It's not going to be like, OK, the virus is over—everybody get together. We start ticket sales in May, which is what? Three weeks away? It would have been crazy to do that; it just seems like it would be difficult to get visas for people, and we have a lot of preparations we have to do that really [usually] start around now. It just didn't seem like we could get it done. In fact, we thought about doing something later in the year, but it's so unpredictable. The best we can hope for is 2021 and using the same artists—they're all juried in automatically. But obviously we want to protect the artists and protect the community. If you're bringing in 400 people from 52 countries—[the artists] don't come by themselves—that would be quite an incubator. It wasn't an easy decision, but it was a clear decision.

With so many artists dependent on this and other markets, are there strategies being developed to help them stay afloat?

Absolutely. It's our mission, really. Right now we're sort of regrouping and doing the necessary adjustments to our budget to keep the organization going, but over the next three weeks or so, we're going to be probably announcing an online presence, which might be product sales, it could include education programs; webinars have become very important. We have the Mentor to Market program, all of the artists participate in that, so we could make videos and we could keep the educational piece of the market. And if we do an online version of the market, we could have an online store.

We keep hearing about markets potentially planning virtual experiences. Do you think that’s realistic, and is that something IFAM is thinking about putting together? Something you’re developing from the ground up?

I think we're developing from the ground up, but there already are some examples. Museums have collections online. These things take some knowledge and some time to develop, but that's what we're looking at. How do we create that kind of presence so we stay in the forefront of people's consciousness? We're not shutting down; we're just not doing the event this year.

Have you lost any staff? I know you have many volunteers.

Last year, we had 2,026, and we may appeal to them…do they have anybody who has experience with online presence? In terms of staff, we have to make budget adjustments, so that would include salary adjustments, furloughs and layoffs like every organization is doing. Once we get back to normal, if there is such a thing, we'll see about maybe bringing them back.

What happens now or next? This is obviously uncharted territory.

As I said, we're regrouping and reducing our budget to accommodate our future as an organization, and at the same time trying to invent ways where we can continue to support the artists. We're probably going to mount some kind of campaign to raise funds for the artists, which we do every year, and we have artist sponsorships, which allow us to bring the artists here, so it could be a donation to bring their products here so we can sell it for them. It could be by early fall we could have a retail space. We have the center on Cerrillos Road where we've done some business, we've had popups all year with artists from Cuba, Laos…We have their work on display where they can do a talk—obviously they can't come, but we could have the product and some kind of video demonstration from them.

To continue engaging, Ashman recommends visiting the International Folk Art Market's website and Facebook page for up-to-date information.

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