We’ve just passed the one-year mark since Santa Fe’s big three summer arts -markets—International Folk Art Market, Traditional Spanish Market and Indian Market—announced there would not be in-person events in 2020. COVID-19 was so new to us at the time, and each event fell in quick succession like dominoes. At the time, Southwestern Association for Indian Arts board president Thomas A. Teegarden said in a statement that Indian Market’s cancellation was “a devastating decision,” and that 2020 would be “a huge financial blow for a lot of people.”

Multiply that times three, and that’s not even getting into myriad other canceled events, such as the Plaza Bandstand series, the Railyard Summer Concert series, CURRENTS, Lowrider Day, etc., each rippling out into the broader local economy, affecting workers in hotels, food service, retail, the arts and beyond. Even SFR was not immune, and we made the tough call to cancel our annual Best of Santa Fe block party in the Railyard—which coincides with AMP Concerts’ Santa Fe Salutes series of tribute shows for deceased musicians. We had to make that difficult decision again this year.

“It’s been as disappointing to us as it is to everybody else to not be all out there together,” says Sandra Brice, director of events and marketing for the Santa Fe Railyard Community Corporation, which oversees events in the Railyard. “It’s been difficult to not be meeting up and enjoying our favorite things, like the SFR party, movies in the park, concerts—even just running into each other.”

But now, as of this writing, nearly 57% of New Mexicans have received at least their first COVID-19 vaccine dose, and Santa Fe County is steadily maintaining its turquoise designation within the state’s red-to-green framework, which dictates which types of businesses, institutions and events can reopen and at what capacity. Given that ongoing turquoise status, Brice is hopeful for a return to some semblance of normalcy, as are the big three arts markets. Still, this means a nonstop string of potential events on the books in pencil rather than ink. Though events promoters, curators, sound engineers and indeed audiences themselves look forward to once again gathering, a massive asterisk sits beside any possible future happenings: Things are still changing day to day when it comes to COVID-19 and public health orders.

“What’s not apparent is that while it looks like not a lot is going on, it’s an enormous amount of work to hold events,” Brice tells SFR, “to book everything tentatively, go back to cancel some things, save dates for people who keep saying ‘in case,’ and to start these conversations with folks for 2021 about whether we think it’s worth spending the time to put something together.”

Within the state’s turquoise rules, outdoor gatherings top off at 150 people. In a post-COVID world, that sounds like a lot of people, but given previous Santa Fe summer events, it’s a small fraction. Even so, it’s a daunting number, both for organizers and those taking the virus seriously—or someone like Brice, who must examine every possible outcome.

“What it seems to be coming down to in terms of large public outdoor events is the challenge of not having clear access points,” she cautions. “That’s what I’m working on now—how to start a return to controllable outdoor events, with temporary fencing, temporary entrances...but I look forward to it, and we’re going to start really seeing a change this year.”

That change can’t come soon enough, particularly for the big three summer arts markets, which not only rely on both locals and tourists, but for visiting artists to be able to travel in and out of the state. In the case the International Folk Art Market, Traditional Spanish Market and Indian Market, each has been cautiously moving ahead with plans for in-person events, not because any one team is making assumptions about what shape the world would be in by now, or later in the summer, but because each event’s staff must be prepared. Certainly we’ve all grown tired of reading the term “pivot” over the last 13 months, but even as pivoting bore more robust online offerings across the arts commerce sphere, the brass at each market have been uniquely aware that in-person events are where the magic lies.

If health orders continue to relax, if more New Mexicans gain access to their vaccinations, if artists can work out how to safely travel, it becomes ever more clear—these teams need to be ready to go.

“We’re planning an in-person market that is somewhat reduced from our normal market, which usually has 21,000 visitors in 22 hours,” says Stuart Ashman, executive director of the International Folk Art Market. “We’re now going to spread it out over two weekends starting on July 7 through July 11; July 12 and 13 we’ll shut down to reset; then we’ll reopen it July 14 and go to July 18.”

Ashman says the first hurdles are in artists arriving in Santa Fe safely and getting their wares shipped in a timely manner. After that, it’s about overall safety for visitors and logistics. Each weekend will consist of 40 to 50 artists, as opposed to the market’s usual 160 artists over one weekend, and timed ticketing will allow for staggered guest entry. Ideally, Ashman notes, no more than 300 people, including staff, volunteers and artists, will be on Museum Hill’s Milner Plaza at a time. Tickets allow for two hours of access, and the famed early bird day will become two this year on the Thursday before each weekend. Ashman also says artists will be rapid-tested for COVID-19 at the airport when they arrive and the entire IFAM staff has been training in the Department of Health’s COVID-safe practices.

“All the [trainings] that were available, even in restaurants, retail, entertainment, we were certified in them,” Ashman says.

IFAM will also implement a new payment system this year—booths manned by staff who will accept only credit cards or checks—and artists who can’t travel will have the option to ship works to Santa Fe where market staff dubbed Artist Associates will serve as proxy sellers. Ashman even says the organization has brought on Dr. Diane Friedman to work as a safety monitor during market hours.

“We’re being very cautious,” he says, “because things have developed in a positive way. Of course we intend to follow all the state and federal guidelines for the kind of event we’re producing.”

Artist Cole Litzenberg at a previous Traditional Spanish Market.
Artist Cole Litzenberg at a previous Traditional Spanish Market. | Suzanne S. Klapmeier

Meanwhile, Traditional Spanish Market is also in the later phases of planning for an in-person market on the Plaza in 2021. Executive Director Jennifer Berkley, who took the reins last May after working with SWAIA and during a particularly grueling stretch of COVID-19, says the Spanish Colonial Arts Society, which oversees the market, is in better shape than it has been in years. With renovations to the flagship museum near Museum Hill, loosening health orders and New Mexico’s promising vaccine rollout, she’s feeling good about resuming the market this year on July 24 and 25.

“If there’s a blessing in disguise about everything, it’s that it really forced downtime, which the organization hadn’t had since its founding,” Berkley tells SFR. “When you have that kind of downtime, you have a chance to take a hard look at what you do and how you do it—the time to refresh, revise, recalibrate. We’re just trying to remain as flexible as we can.”

Part of the flexibility, Berkley says, is in understanding how guidelines from the city and state could potentially change at any moment. Like any potential upcoming in-person event, masks and social distancing will be the norm at Traditional Spanish Market, but, Berkley says, “It’s not just about commerce and selling stuff—how do we have a heritage event in the spirit of the past when we’re constrained by crowd numbers, health, etc.?”

Much of the answer lies in whether artists are willing to sell their works in a public space, and the Spanish Colonial Arts Society surveyed all of its 2020 juried artists to gauge how they felt in the leadup to 2021.

“Some are ready to go, some are not,” Berkley explains. “We’re working with them to fashion something, but it’s also hard to give a direct answer because these are artists who spent the last year working in a different space, not making art like they used to....It isn’t just about tourists and staying in hotels, it’s about whether these artists are fully able and ready to do this.”

Yvonne Gillespie, director of finance and administration for the society and, as of this year, Traditional Spanish Market lead, says she’s gearing up to get to the -bottom of that very question.

“For me, it’s about how many artists can make it, and we’ll start from there,” she tells SFR. “But I’ve been talking with those artists and our regular contractors and vendors, and everyone has been amazing. We’ve met with the city to walk the streets [around the Plaza] and see about what’s mandated. We’re getting a good picture of what it’s going to take.”

The days of gathering without masks and not social distancing, such as at a previous Spanish Market, are over—for now. Crowds must police themselves at any in-person summer events.
The days of gathering without masks and not social distancing, such as at a previous Spanish Market, are over—for now. Crowds must police themselves at any in-person summer events. | SFR File Photo

Gillespie says that, as of now, an in-person Spanish Market will happen. It’ll take at least 100 artist booths, though unlike previous years, sellers won’t be allowed to double up. The canvas booth walls will provide enough social distance between artists. Visitors will have to police themselves—as is the law anyway. Gillespie envisions one-way pathways, plenty of temporary barriers and timed entrances. Assuming visitors remain patient and don’t get weird, she says, that should be enough.

“I do want people to know that we are going to have changes,” Gillespie adds. “We still want to keep it the same market we’ve always had, but we’ll be doing temperature checks [on artists and staff], everyone will have to be masked—but we’ll also have exhibits on the different classes of artist. We’re going deeper into education; that’s a direction we know we have to go.”

“I have to say we have been extremely fortunate and definitely very proactive in pivoting,” says SWAIA Executive Director Kim Peone (Colville Confederated Tribes/Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians). “I would say that from an ED perspective, on a scale from 1 to 10, we hit it out of the park with Virtual Indian Market and NDN World.”

Virtual Indian Market is exactly what it sounds like, but SWAIA’s NDN World, an interactive and 3D-rendered version of Indian Market built upon the architecture of the Second Life video game and accessible via computer, continues to be an absolute stunner. By allowing visitors to create controllable avatars and interact with booths, social events and gatherings in a game-like setting, SWAIA not only embraced the future of arts interactivity, it leveled the playing field for those who can’t travel to Santa Fe, even in the best of times. Additionally, the organization’s online sales platform helped soften the blow of a canceled market and, according to Peone, will remain a permanent part of the nonprofit’s operations.

SWAIA’s NDN World uses Second Life architecture to turn Indian Market into an interactive game-like experience.
SWAIA’s NDN World uses Second Life architecture to turn Indian Market into an interactive game-like experience. | Courtesy SWAIA

“I just feel like the digital space is our future,” she notes, “but it would never deter us from our actual Santa Fe Indian Market. I think [digital elements] will just support and promote the market, and that’s going to be a necessary thing as we go into August.”

SWAIA is moving forward with plans for an in-person market Aug. 21 and 22. The logistics for that, however, are anything but simple. In the coming weeks, Peone says, there are countless things to consider, but in a market first, the event will be ticketed. Like IFAM, this gives SWAIA more control over how many visitors come to market, and for how long. Ticket prices have not yet been announced, but Peone says just knowing SWAIA can produce the market is a major relief. Still, in a way, it’s almost like selling tickets to the Plaza, which will certainly come with challenges. City spokesman David Herndon tells SFR it’s too early to tell how ticketing will work.

“There are still hard questions to answer, and we’re still needing guidance from the state,” Peone explains. “Do we take temperatures? Do we do contact tracing? Crowd control? What are the access points? All of these things will dictate a different look for the market this year.”

In 2020, nearly half the artists who had juried into Indian Market showed virtually. In 2021, those accepted artists will automatically be accepted to market. For an event that takes up more than a square city block around the Plaza, as well as space in the Santa Fe Community Convention Center, making it work safely puts a lot of onus on visitors. Like every public gathering, Indian Market will require masks and social distancing. Still, Peone cites a 2018 study from the city’s Occupancy Tax Advisorry Board which found Indian Market brings in roughly $165 million to New Mexico’s economy annually. That’s a hard number to ignore.

“It’s not necessarily only about day-by-day changes around here, but it’s certainly health order by health order,” says city tourism head Randy Randall. “The free-for-all events we’ve had in the past, where people can come and go and there’s no restrictions on numbers? They will not be allowed as they have been, so we’re working on plans as to how we as a city can help put on these events while controlling access and numbers and maximizing what they can do, but, of course, being very careful to have safe events that fit within state guidance.”

Randall says the big three markets are a major feather in Santa Fe’s tourism cap, though without in-person events in 2020, city tourism was able to hold onto 70% of its critical expenditure from March to June. This means a bolstered marketing plan that Randall calls “make your plans now for a future trip.” The majority of that campaign will be aimed at neighboring states.

“Our mission is to remind people we’re a great place to come,” Randall says. “The city would very much like to have these markets come back as quickly as they can—we also want to do it for the preservation of those nonprofits [that plan and execute the markets].”

“The whole point is to get the event rolling,” Gillespie says of Traditional Spanish Market. “This is about the art, the living artists, the traditions. Maybe it’s just about our heart and soul.”

The same could be said for any of the big three.

Baskets by Diné artist Honeebah Tsosie (left) at a previous Indian Market. It’s hard to not miss this and other displays of gorgeous artistry.
Baskets by Diné artist Honeebah Tsosie (left) at a previous Indian Market. It’s hard to not miss this and other displays of gorgeous artistry. | Suzanne S. Klapmeier

Other Summer Happenings

Outside of Santa Fe’s most famous art markets, the summertime holds ­numerous other events in a normal year. We checked in with organizers of four such popular gatherings to see what they’re planning.

AMP Concerts’ Director of Santa Fe Operations Jamie Lenfestey tells SFR the nonprofit isn’t quite sure where it will land in terms of in-person events this year. Like most organizations, he and Albuquerque head Neal Copperman are just waiting to hear some good news. AMP most recently took over the Plaza Bandstand series from nonprofit Outside In, whose founder David Lescht created the series but tragically died in 2012. Both the nonprofit and the concert series had been run by Michael Delheim since 2013. Ultimately, plans are in motion, but there’s no word just yet.

New Mexico Lowrider Arte & Culture Exhibit ­­(Saturday, May 1-Monday, May 31)

In 2016, then-mayor Javier Gonzales decreed May 22 would forevermore be known as Lowrider Day in Santa Fe. With health orders making large outdoor gatherings more challenging—particularly when it comes to more than 100 lowriders descending on the Plaza—organizers of previous annual celebrations have upped the party from one day to a full-on month of activities and events at Santa Fe Place mall. “It’s been a little tough to get anything going, but right now what we have planned is a lowrider exhibit with cars, a procession, food vendors and 15-plus artists,” says organizer Casey Montoya. “We’ll have pedal bikes, pedal cars, old-school strollers from the 1950s, and everything is going to be COVID-safe.” Montoya says his small team is paying for any costs out of their own pockets and volunteering all their time. In ­addition to taking over retail space within Santa Fe Place for the artsy offerings, other events will occur in the parking lot. “And it’s all free,” Montoya adds.

CURRENTS (Friday, June 18-Sunday, June 27)

After learning that the virtual world was a great fit for its particular brand of new media, CURRENTS co-Executive and Artistic Directors Frank Ragano and Mariannah Amster tell SFR they’ll be leaning into online VR and AR ­elements from here on out, but that doesn’t mean 2021 is a bust for in-­person elements. CURRENTS has partnered with the Center for Contemporary Arts for an admittedly smaller but no less intriguing real-life festival in 2021. “It’s going to be a smaller event...but it’s going to be beautiful,” Amster says. “People should realize it’s going to be a different kind of experience—not counting flat panel video work, there are 12 installation pieces, a performance and we have some work outside.” As for maintaining the virtual side, Ragano says it only ups the possibilities. “The whole virtual side has exploded,” he says. “It brought out this creative flood.”

97th Annual Burning of Zozobra (Friday, Sept. 3)

“What we’ve decided to do is three contingencies,” says Zozobra Events Chair Ray Sandoval. “Number one would be a replay of last year’s virtual event—which we don’t think is likely because the state has done such a great job with COVID-19 and vaccinations. Number two would be a hybrid event with a limited crowd; and number three would be based on pods, like with your family or groups of 10.” Ultimately, however, Sandoval is optimistic about an in-person night when we burn Old Man Gloom in 2021. “We can quickly adapt to whatever the health order is,” Sandoval adds. “We’re looking at a lot of different things, but we have a lot of surprises planned.” 2021 heralds 1980s style in the ongoing Zozobra Decades Project, which finds the embodiment of the sadsies embracing the style of a different decade yearly.