Folk Artisans from Around the World Celebrated at Annual Santa Fe Market

| Last Updated on September 14, 2021 | , , , , ,

Folk Artisans Share Talents and Cultural Traditions at World’s Biggest Craft Festival

Artisans around the world travel to New Mexico to display and share their work at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. The world’s largest folk art market offers economic opportunities for and with folk artists worldwide who celebrate and preserve folk art traditions. The International Folk Art Market envisions a world that values the dignity and humanity of the handmade, honors timeless cultural traditions, and supports the work of folk artists and entrepreneurs as catalysts for positive change.

In 2021, the market celebrated its 17th gathering of the world’s master folk artists, with over 116 artists from 30 countries participating, realizing $2.23 million in sales which resulted in the artists taking home $1.86 million. Despite a difficult year given the continued COVID situation, IFAM conducted the Market over 10 days with timed entries of 2 hours at a time with 200 visitors allowed every two hours, with 9,000 visitors attending in total.

Since its founding, the International Folk Art Market has generated total sales of over 30 million and impacted an estimated 1.3 million lives worldwide.

Stuart Ashman is CEO of the International Folk Art Market, and a cultural ambassador who has worked in the arts for over 30 years. From 2003-2010 he served as Secretary of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs. He has also held leadership positions at the Center for Contemporary Arts of Santa Fe, the New Mexico Museum of Art, and the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art both of Santa Fe, and the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, California.

Stuart Ashman International Folk Art Market
Stuart Ashman

I know you will enjoy this conversation with Stuart and a behind-the-scenes look at the world’s biggest folk art market, the evolution of the folk art tradition, and the future of the creative economy—as well as hearing from Stuart about the influences of Cuba, photography and music in his own artistic journey.

Selecting the Best From the Best

Meg: The International Folk Art Market is the world’s largest folk art festival. Can you talk about the criteria that’s used to select the artists and what the decision-making process is?

Stuart: We have supporters and folk art market attendees that travel the world on vacation and come across some of these artists and encourage them to apply. We have a very strenuous application process, and artists often need help translating. It asks questions like how did you become an artist, how did you learn this particular craft, etc.

This year we had 700 applicants and we have two committees; one made up of specialists and experts in particular areas. So, you might have two people that know Asian textiles, one or two people that know contemporary naïve painting, etc. They are called the Selection Committee and they pare down those 700 applicants to a little over 200 or 250 based on criteria of excellence that are defined in their guidelines.

We have a group called the Placement Committee and they take those 250 and pare it down to what we can accommodate in terms of our physical space. For example, in 2019, we had 172 invited artists from 51 countries, but we rarely see all 172 because of problems like visas, because of personal issues, somebody gets sick, or they have problems shipping their material and so on. So we will definitely end up with over 150, maybe 160 out of 172 invited artists.

International Folk Art Market
Photo: Peggy Gaustad, International Folk Art Market

Meg: Do the artisans get assistance in terms of pricing their work?

Stuart: First year artists can apply for financial assistance and we raise funds to bring 30 of them with financial assistance. And what that consists of is their air fare and lodging, and then they give 10% of their sales back. Any expenses they incur usually are deducted from the 10% except for the lodging and the airfare, which is already covered.

Discovering a Passion is Actually a Profession

Meg: I’ve actually interviewed several artisans over the years in destinations I’ve traveled to who in the process of talking with them I’ve learned that they have exhibited at the market and they’ve each been exceedingly proud of being accepted. Can you talk about the benefits to participants both generally and anecdotally in terms of the economics and the emotional impact of having the opportunity?

Stuart: The emotional impact is a big one. They for the first time in their lives are together with 49 or 50 other artists. So, they really create this community, which gives them a lot of recognition, and they realize that they are in fact in a profession. Whereas, in their own village or town, they may be seen as an outlier. These people who come often earn more in one weekend than they would have earned in a couple of years.

Artisan International Folk Art Market
Photo: Daniel Quat Photography, International Folk Art Market

I’ll share a little anecdote. There was an artist who came from Central Cuba, and had been working as a state agronomer. He is an engineer working in the sugar cane industry and he started painting naïve folk art paintings on the weekend and selling them to tourists at hotel lobbies and so on. He started making about $300 a month, and so, he realized that was better than what he was doing with the agronomy, which he had done for 30 years.

He got into the market and the first year he came, he brought about 150 works priced between $250 and $450. At the end of the market we issue a check for their sales minus the booth fee, the 10%, etc. I was driving with him to the bank so he could cash his check and I said “I have your check here and you did pretty well.” And he said, “How did I do? $6000?” I said “No, you did a little more.” He said, “$8000?” I said “No, you did $14,000.” He immediately got out his cell phone calculator and he said, “You know, that’s 90 years of my salary.”

So that’s one of the stories, and there are a lot of stories like that. There are people who come from Africa and are able to go home and build a school, drill, a well or things like that.

Meet two artisans who have been featured at IFAM, Miguel Caraballo and Raul Ayala, who practice the art of Vejigantes in Puerto Rico! 

Extensive Training to Learn the Ropes

Meg: Do the artisans get assistance in terms of pricing their work?

Stuart: There is an extensive training program. The artists start arriving on Monday and Tuesday, and Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are training days. We have a Mentor to Market program where we explain these things to them. I have some experience. Years ago, I worked as a contractor for the Peace Corps with artisan communities. And if I asked an artist “How much is that bracelet?” and they said $7, and I would ask, “Well, how did you get to $7?” and they would shrug their shoulders. We try to explain to them that you must figure out how much it costs to make it, how many hours it took to make it and then how much they think you should get paid for each hour, and what the market can bear. That’s how you can figure out the price.

Mexico Inocencia Hernandez Ramirez
Photo: Daniel Quat Photography, International Folk Art Market

In the U.S., artisans are different because they go to their studios at eight or nine in the morning and work until six or seven at night, and they’re putting in a 40 or 50-hour week. In other countries, it’s a piecemeal thing. A Guatemala embroiderer might have to go feed the chickens in the morning, take the kids to school, grind some corn, cook the meal, and maybe in between there she finds an hour or two to do some embroidery. So, if you ask her how long it took to make this, she might say it took three months, but in fact, it was only 40 hours. You have to take all of that into account. The application does have a requirement that you indicate what your price range is, and we often help them adjust it when they get here.

embroidery
Photo: International Folk Art Market

Recognizing The Value of Talent

International Folk Art Market Four Guys
Photo Credit – International Folk Art Market

I had one artist who was making these very beautiful antique car models out of recycled material and he was selling them for $50 in his hometown. I said “You’ve got to raise the prices—you can’t just charge $50 for these.” And the next time I went to see him they were $60, and I said “No, that’s not what I’m talking about.” So we adjusted the price for him in the market and they sold for $175, which is what they should sell for. Now in his village, if you come to him you have to buy them for $125, so it all kind of works.

Meg: How self-esteem boosting! There are many people in many walks of life who sell themselves short and it must just be a tremendous feeling to see the light in people’s eyes as they begin to recognize that their talent has more value than perhaps they’ve believed.

Stuart: That’s right and obviously I mean this artist that I just talked to you about, he’s being marketed in this folk art market. If he were a US born artist and he was in the mainstream of the art world, in galleries these $50 models would probably be selling for $2500 without any problem. So it does indeed help them see the value of their effort.

Ock Pop Tok, Laos

Meg: I’m intrigued by your mentioning the miniature automobiles being made of recycled material. Can you give an overview of the different types of crafts that are exhibited at the market and how that has changed or grown since the market’s inception?

Stuart: The first year we had about 80 artists. We’ve more than doubled the number of artists. There’s a lot of interest in textiles and wearables. People are really fascinated with ethnic clothing from Africa and South Asia. In fact, we recently had a pop-up sale of a co-op from Laos called Ock Pop Tok, and they make all kinds of beautiful clothing. They weave them, they sew them, they have ties, shirts, blouses, purses and so on. The craft range is huge; we have woodcarving, wood sculptures, handmade toys, ceramics, textiles, painting, basket making, etc.

Items on display at an Ock Pop Tok pop-up sale in Santa Fe. Photo: International Folk Art Market

Artisans The World Over

Meg: Does IFAM try to have some type of geographic representation when you’re considering different artisans? Are you looking to ensure that there’s a certain number of people from a certain number of markets and that there’s a certain diversity to the type of crafts?

Stuart: Yes, and that’s part of the job of the Placement Committee, although I have to say there are some countries that are leaders in producing artisans. Traditionally, our number one country represented is India, and our number two is Mexico. Surprisingly, number three is Uzbekistan which has all kinds of textiles, crafts, rugs, carpets, silverwork and so on. But, we do try to show as much of the world as possible. Obviously, we’re limited by who applies, but, we encourage our travelers. If somebody tells us they’re traveling to Paraguay, we say, look for crafts for us and see if there’s anybody there that you think should apply.

Photo: International Folk Art Market

We also have a travel program called Passport to Folk Art where we take people in groups to Mexico City, Oaxaca, Cuba, India, Bhutan, China—I mean everywhere. These people are obviously interested in folk art and artistry. They keep their eyes open for us and say, “Why don’t you have somebody from here?”

We have a trip to Morocco this year, as well. So, these are culture rich and craft rich communities, and we always want to discover a new form. We have a whole section in the folk art market called Innovation, which is artists who are working rooted in their traditions, but, have stepped out into some other–they’re aware of the contemporary world, and so, they move their traditions in an innovative way.

passport to folk art
Group photo at Gallery with artist Nancy Reyes in Havana Vieja. Photo: International Folk Art Market

Incorporating Innovation Into Cultural Traditions

Meg: That was actually my next question! I understand that in 2017 the market introduced an innovation category, and I believe that recently there were 29 such artists. I’d love to hear about that innovation if you’re able to share a few examples of how people have taken traditional arts and kind of given them a twist.

Stuart: One example that comes to mind immediately is this Mexican designer, Carla Fernandez, and Carla works with indigenous communities and selects textiles that they make and then designs them into these contemporary fashions. They are completely rooted in the tradition of their country, but instead of just being a rebozo (a shawl), it becomes a beautiful jacket. She uses the indigenous people to actually do the crafting, and she just does the design. She’s kind of what we would call a designer maker and that’s one of the innovators.

Then, we have a basket maker from Rwanda that creates these baskets that are nonfunctional, they just look like something you would put in your living space as a sculpture. It’s actually a traditional basket, but the colors, shape, and form really indicate an awareness of contemporary design. Those are kind of some of the examples of what we see there in the innovation tent booths. We have space for 30 innovators in that area. And it’s one of the best-selling areas in the market. People really want to see how traditions are evolving.

Female Artisans of Rwandas Gahaya Links
The female artisans of Rwanda’s Gahaya Links produce some of the most recognizable items at the International Folk Art Market.
basket weaving
Thanks to Gahaya Links, there has been a profound impact on the quality of life for its members who are able to provide a stable source of income for themselves and their families. Photos: Daniel Quat Photography, International Folk Art Market

What Were Once Challenges Have Become Easy to Accomplish

Meg: You became Chief Executive Officer of the International Folk Art Market, Santa Fe at the beginning of 2019. Previously, as the former Secretary of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs from 2003 to 2010, you were involved in crafting the funding agreement that helped establish the market. Can you talk about the vision for how the market came about at that time, and what some of the opportunities and challenges were then and what they are today?

Stuart: Among other things, the Department of Cultural Affairs has the oversight of four museums in Santa Fe in this cultural campus called Museum Hill. While I was the Secretary, I had a visit in my office from the four people who are the founders of the market: Judy Espinar, who was an importer of high-level ceramics from all over Europe, and had a small store in Santa Fe called The Clay Angel, which was more like a gallery in a museum; Tom Aageson, who was executive director of the Museum Foundation; Charlene Cerny, who was the director of the Museum of International Folk Art and Charmay Allred, who is a patron of the arts and involved in about every cultural organization in New Mexico. They came to me and said, “We have this idea to do an international folk art market.”

Apache Mountain Spirit Dancer
The Apache Mountain Spirit Dancer on Milner Plaza on Museum Hill in Santa Fe, sculpted by San Carlos Apache artist Craig Dan Goseyun. Photo: Meg Pier

Santa Fe is a festival city—we have an Indian market, a Spanish market, the Santa Fe Chamber of Music Festival, the Santa Fe Opera. It’s almost the Salzburg of the Americas. The idea of a folk art market made a lot of sense to me, and I said “Let’s do it up on Museum Hill.” Of course, that’s what they were thinking. We had just built this new museum resources building. I gave them some office space there for a very reduced rent so they could have an operating center. They used that for a number of years. I think the biggest challenges for them then was securing all of the funds, and then convincing the community here that this would not interfere with any of the other markets. It hasn’t really, it’s actually just enhanced everything, and with $3.3 million in sales, we write a check to the state for $300,000 in gross receipt taxes, and we fill all the hotels.

We have a neighboring hotel, The Hotel Santa Fe and they tell me that our market is the best in terms of filling their rooms. So, the challenge continues as we grow. The number of artists has doubled, the budget has almost tripled, so the challenges continue to be about how to make it sustainable so that we can continue to serve these communities. The communities that I’m talking about are the communities of artists in all of these countries, the community of Santa Fe, and the community of visitors that come to see the market. I think that’s what we would like to be able to continue to do and expand it as much as we can, perhaps do versions of the market in other cities that could sustain it.

Photo: International Folk Art Market

Meet Phoebe Lasoi Salau, an artisan of the Massai People who was featured at IFAM in 2019. 

The Potential to Expand Across the Country

Meg: That’s another springboard to my next question! While I understand that the market is unique to Santa Fe and that part of the function it serves is to attract tourism, if you take the broader view and look at the opportunity for artisans and the arts in a broader way, could you envision the International Folk Art Market Santa Fe model being replicated in other regions and parts of the world to spur a creative economy?

Stuart: That would be a dream to be able to replicate the market in other cities. Santa Fe has a unique demographic as I mentioned. We already have markets and festivals, so people are receptive to that. We also have a demographic of people that moved here who have disposable incomes, who are sophisticated, have traveled, are interested in culture, and are interested in world culture. That’s part of the reason for the success of the market here. Now, that’s not to say other cities don’t have this, but it’s highly concentrated here and the people are receptive to it.

artisans
Photo: International Folk Art Market

You could take, for example, a city like New York or Washington D.C. that have millions of residents, but the demographic is not quite as concentrated as it is here. And an international market may not be as much of a novelty because if you take a taxi in Washington your driver might be from Uganda or Ethiopia, so you can have a conversation with a local from one of those countries who has only been here a year or two. In New York, you could walk down to the street corner and there’d be a Nigerian selling beads or a Guatemalan selling scarves. So, it has to be analyzed very carefully. We did have a market in Arlington, Texas, which may not have been the ideal city to do it, and it had limited success. What we would like to do is to create a market that brings some assurances to the artisans because they have to invest time, money, and effort to get to the market.

So, we are talking to several other locations that have approached us about doing markets there and they may have a specific interest. We may have a city that’s interested only in Latin American artists or only in female artists. And so we’re exploring those possibilities, discussing it within our board and with other organizations to see what the feasibility is. It was suggested to me by a consultant that we should follow the Guggenheim model, which is if a city wants you to build them a Guggenheim, have them do a feasibility study and show you what’s possible. Obviously, that’s not going to be the case for us, but it’s a good model to look at because we know what it takes to make a market. We have 1600 volunteers, so can a town get 1600 volunteers for an unknown market? That’s a question, because otherwise you can’t run it as efficiently as we do.

International Folk Art Market Group
Photo Credit – International Folk Art Market

But, we would like to also engender a kind of confidence in the artists that maybe they don’t have to come to Santa Fe every year or whatever other city. Maybe they figure out how it works, and they can find an artisan fair in their own capital city or in a neighboring country, and become kind of entrepreneurs themselves and procure those kinds of opportunities without having us involved as part of our training.

A Conference For Artisans

Friday Market 96
Photo: Daniel Quat Photography, International Folk Art Market

Meg: That actually is a segue into my next question. In that spirit, can you describe what the “mentor to market” program is?

Stuart: That’s right. An orientation on how this market works is part of our training. If this is the first time an artisan has come, they have no idea what this is like. We have a point of sale system, a payment system, we have all kinds of activities for the artist to take part in. So, part one is orientation. We also have an artist conference where they can choose from a menu of topics — business management, marketing and promotion, pricing, finding new markets, etc. So, there are sessions over a period of two days where they can educate themselves.

In the old days, artists would just spend time in their studios and that was it. “I just paint and that’s what I do.” But these days artists have to give a good percentage of their time to developing their career and that’s part of what we try to do here. You know we already recognize that you’re a great embroiderer but how do you get your embroidery out into the world so that it’s not just the people that come to your house that buy it. So that’s part of it. Another piece of it is you know how to deal with exporting.

Display of embroidered curtain and pillow covers from Peru and traditional quilts from Pakistan. Photo: International Folk Art Market

IFAM Trains Artisans In Marketing

The fellow that I mentioned earlier who creates the model cars? The way that those model cars get here to Santa Fe is that whenever people travel to his town, we send them down there with an empty suitcase and then they bring back six or eight at a time. I connected this artist to a shipping company and all he has to do is talk to them and get the stuff shipped over here. Yet, he can’t manage to do that, that’s sort of beyond his capacity. It’s almost like an agoraphobia. He’s good at staying in his studio and working all day long, but, if he has to make a phone call to somebody and arrange for shipping, that’s outside of his scope. So, helping with challenges like this is part of what we want to do.

international folk art market
Example of a model car. Photo: International Folk Art Market

We also have celebratory events, which are part of the mentor to market program, kind of like graduation from the project. And, we have a smaller market in Dallas, which is a wholesale market, and it does very well for the 30 or so artists that participate there. We encourage those artists that are able to do wholesale contracts or wholesale vending to look into that and see if they can benefit from that. You know, certainly, a jeweler, or a weaver can be involved in wholesale when the items are not just one of a kind. A potter could be involved in a wholesale operation.

Meg: Right, so there’s economies of scale.

Stuart: That’s right.

Can IFAM Be Replicated?

Meg: There are places that have been visited since the times of the pilgrims but off-the-beaten-path places might need to foster a destination brand. Do you have thoughts on ways that less well-known places could replicate the success Santa Fe has had in becoming a destination?

Stuart: One of the unique characteristics of Santa Fe is that it’s a small town, but it’s not a small town. It’s a small town in terms of size and population. But we have almost one of everything that you would find in a larger metropolitan area. We have great innovative restaurants, we have music venues, and that’s part of what the attraction is. When you come to Santa Fe, there’s a lot to do here, it’s not just doing the folk art market, but you can also get in the car and 25 minutes outside of town you can be in an Indian pueblo. And that part is tough to replicate. That said though, there are cities and towns around the country that have cultural traditions that are unique to their area and if they market and promote those it could expand further.

Santa Fe Shops
Street full of shops, galleries and restaurants in Santa Fe. Photo Credit – Karol M from Arizona, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

For example, you take Asheville, North Carolina, which is surrounded by a big ceramics tradition and glass blowing traditions, and there’s Black Mountain College, which trained a lot of contemporary artists. If they could bring that together somehow as a marketing entity it may become a new destination for travelers. You know we don’t really suffer from over-tourism here although you know us locals take a breath in September when all the festivals are over because then you can drive through town without traffic. Indian Market brings a hundred thousand people to Santa Fe. In a town of 70,000 that’s doubling the population for a weekend so you can imagine what infrastructure is. I think that expanding on the uniqueness of your own community is the strategy to be used.

Know What You Are and Be Such

Let me tell you a little side story. I taught a small workshop class in Lima, Peru some years ago to college students who were in the design field. So we had animation designers, fashion designers, furniture designers, graphic designers, etc. And I told them that very same thing. I said “If you design fashions to compete with Paris and New York you’re never going to get anywhere. You have a unique thing; you have millennia-old indigenous traditions that are part of your ethnic makeup, so why don’t you design starting there?”

We called the class Identity Design, and the kids were amazing. The class was five hours a day and they wouldn’t even take a break and they came up with incredible things. The fashion people had the most beautiful things you could wear to the Oscars, but they obviously looked like they were designed by some contemporary Inca. And then the animation designers created video games with indigenous superheroes. It was really quite an amazing experience. That’s capitalizing on what it is that is unique to your culture and not swaying from that product.

Peru CTTC Nilda Callanaupa
Photo: Peggy Gaustad, International Folk Art Market

One Day in Cuba is Not Enough

Meg: You’ve had a special relationship with Cuba for some time. Can you share how that began and how it’s evolved?

Stuart: I basically grew up in Cuba. I would have been born in Cuba, my parents migrated there from Eastern Europe in the 1920s. You know, after World War I, Eastern Europeans were placed on a quota system and only so many were allowed into this country. People waited 30 years to get their number on the quota. So, a lot of Eastern Europeans thought that if they went to Latin America, they would get pushed up on the queue. But, the fact was that my parents got to Cuba and kind of fell in love with the place and so stayed there. And then, they traveled to the United States, so I could be born here and have U.S. Citizenship and not have to wait in the queue.

I was born in New York, and then when I was six weeks old, we returned to Cuba. I lived there until I was 12 years old. I really considered myself Cuban in every way, Spanish was my first language, I didn’t learn English until I was 12. When I arrived in the U.S., I really wanted to become an American and assimilate and learn English without an accent, if I could do that. Then, when Clinton became president, he created an opening for travel to Cuba through a special license. And, at that time, I was director of the art museum here in Santa Fe. So, I applied for a professional research license and went to the Havana Biennial in ’97. I was so taken by it emotionally because it was a real homecoming and how people reacted to my story of leaving at 12 and returning at 49.

Stuart Ashman and Family
Stuart & family at the HAVANA airport on September 21, 1960. Stuart is in the suit with crossed arms; his parents are to his left. His mother is in white and his father is to her right, in a suit. – Image Credit: Stuart Ashman
La Habana, Cuba. Photo: Pedro Szekely, via Flickr

I started going back two, three, four times a year and then, because of my work in museums, I was able to organize cultural travel to Cuba. So, when I was president of the museum in Long Beach, we took three trips a year to Cuba with various groups and then my wife got involved with it, and now, she leads trips to Cuba for the folk art market, to look at folk art. I’m trying now to expand on that in whatever way I can. We have four Cuban artists and one collective coming to the market this year. I work with the former governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, who has the Richardson Center for Global Engagement to try to change how the United States deals with Cuba which is basically isolating Cuba which is not helping anybody, only hurting the Cuban people.

Meg: It’s so outdated.

Stuart: It really is but that’s a whole other discussion, we could spend easily an hour on that. But, I was just there about ten days ago for a very short trip, and what has been happening recently, is that there’s a big upsurge in cruise ships coming to Cuba, which means they spend about a day there, which doesn’t really give you a big sense of what Cuba is about. You really have to spend 10 days there and go to the interior and get a sense of what the Cuban people are like, which is amazing.

Like Father Like Son

Stuart: It’s my father. His last job in Cuba before we left was working for the Kodak distributor in Havana. From the time I was about seven years old, he would bring me a camera or printing out paper, which is photographic paper that if you put it out in the sun with something on top of it, it will make an impression of that. I was always fascinated with that and even at age seven I thought of myself as a photographer. And so, I always took pictures.

Stuart Ashman at School
Stuart as an emerging creative in 2nd grade in Matanzas, Cuba. – Image Credit: Stuart Ashman

Then, when I was in college, I met the editor of the school’s poetry magazine, and he saw my photographs and he said, “Oh, you’re an artist, you’ve got to work with us.” That’s really how I made that leap because I never really had a real connection to the arts. In my upbringing, art was a luxury item that was not available to the everyday person.

I started as a working artist and I made a living partially by sculpting and painting and printmaking until I started having kids. Then I realized that I needed to have more of a steady income than the artist up-and-down. So I evolved into arts education and arts administration some 30 years ago and put the art making aside at that time. But I’ve always been recognized as having an artist sensibility or seen as an insider in arts administration and that’s given me a leg up on perhaps other bureaucrats.

Meg: How fascinating that in your story it was really someone else identifying you as an artist that helped you see that in yourself. And, here you are decades later, kind of helping affirm for people their identity as an artist; that’s kind of cool. Can you share a moment in which you felt that very profoundly that your career choice had been the correct choice? Perhaps you’ve had many thousands of those, but I know for many people in the arts there could be a lot of second guessing and there can also be those moments of ‘Yes, this is what I was meant to do.’

Stuart: If I’d had the requisite talent and the focus I would have liked to have been a musician. When I was six years old, I was sort of a recognized little piano prodigy after taking one year of lessons. Then, later as a teenager, I played guitar and whenever I listen to musicians, I wonder. I love the bond that musicians have with each other when they play together, it’s sort of like lovemaking. I don’t know if that’s a regret but it’s a longing I guess. But I know that I have been on the right path. Not to get too poetic, but you flow where the river takes you and this is how these doors opened for me one after the other.

I spent over 20 years working in museums here, and then I was secretary of cultural affairs. When the administration ended, we were all out of jobs, and I got a job in Long Beach as a president of the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA). I was there for five years, although we kept our house here and we wanted to come back. An opportunity arose for me to take over The Center for Contemporary Arts and I accepted that position, and the headline in the paper was, “New Mexico arts veteran returns to run CCA.” That was very validating in a sense.

artisans
Stuart as President of MOLAA welcomes Barbaro Ruiz Martinez and Cuban artist, Manuel Mendive for an exclusive exhibition. Photo: Museum of Latin American Art

And, I think the same is true when I was recruited for this position here at the Folk Art Market, because you know, going back to my history with the market, and for many years, I had talked to the founders and other board members. And, you know, they would say, well, you should run this market and I would say, you know, I’m doing this other thing and you have somebody doing it right now. But, when this opportunity arose, it was also validating because I know so many people in this community and I’m recognized as somebody who has some stability, perhaps integrity, and I’m in service to this community.

One of the things that I really felt was a reward was when I was director of the art museum and an emerging artist would request for me to look at their work with the idea that they were going to have a show at the museum. The outcome usually was that they were happy to have the critique of a museum director and an hour of his time. Then they could go back to their communities and say ‘I met with the director of the museum, he liked these three paintings, he told me to move in this direction.’ Those experiences were really rewarding.

Art is For Everybody

Meg: Taking funding out of the equation, what do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities for the art sector? In particular, I’m interested in what some of the longstanding attitudes and programming are that just aren’t working anymore, and what some of the areas are that represent increased opportunity for community engagement and relevance.

Stuart: Funding is behind everything obviously, but you know in this country art is only valued by a small group and especially when you’re talking about blue chip art, you’re talking about investment and high end galleries and major collectors and so on. But really, art and artists are more. Artists are individuals that reflect our times and so the biggest challenge is having the general public understand that art is for them, that it isn’t just for a select few that can go to museums or have paintings hanging in their houses.

Contemporary art is moving more and more in that direction. One of the criteria for contemporary arts is that it be socially relevant, it’s not just a pretty landscape. But, not to say that a pretty landscape is not socially relevant because particularly, in these times, if you see a beautiful landscape you can talk about preservation and climate protection because if the trees die there’s no more beautiful landscape. My point is that if I had one goal of improving the arts worldwide would be to have it understood that art is for everybody.

Since we were talking about Cuba, I’ll just tell you that one of the contrasts between other cultures and Cuba is that if there is an important contemporary Cuban painter, everybody knows who he or she is. Everybody knows who the artist and who the musicians are. I’ve gone to concerts in Havana and sat with multiple generations of people listening to what you would think would be only for young people because they really have this accessibility that we don’t necessarily have in this country or in other countries. My biggest goal is to make it all accessible to everybody.

Artisans International Folk Art Market
Photo: Daniel Quat Photography, International Folk Art Market

People can come to the Folk Art Market just to experience the artist and the art. They don’t have to buy stuff and take it home. Obviously, that’s the goal because we want economic development to happen for the artist, but, we could probably create a day when people can just come and experience the art and the artists and that would be wonderful for this organization.

Artisans International Folk Art Market
Photo: Peggy Gaustad, International Folk Art Market

I think that more arts organizations can do outreach and make their art accessible to a general public, especially young people so that we can build a generation of people that don’t feel that art is elite or for a particular segment of the community.

Hear from Rupa Trivedi, an Indian artisan who was featured in IFAM in 2019.

Stuart’s Definition of Connection and Culture

Meg: What does connection mean to you and how do you achieve it?

Stuart: Having learned a second language I think connection is more like eye contact and a willingness to make contact with another person even though you don’t speak the same language. What needs to happen is for people to understand that our humanity is shared, and it doesn’t matter what culture you come from as long as you can make eye contact and give each other a smile. I think that’s what connecting is about, and the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market offers that opportunity for people of all cultures.

Railyard 2014

international folk art market
Photos: Peggy Gaustad, International Folk Art Market

Meg: Despite globalization and technology creating more awareness there’s really nothing that can replicate direct contact. How do you define ‘culture’?

Stuart: From my perspective, it’s the customs, traditions, the arts, the social institutions, the attitudes, the achievements, the failures of a group of people, a nation, a tribe, etc. It’s a conglomerate of things. We often talk about corporate culture, which is really how a group of people behaves, but in our case, it’s how they act coming from their traditional lives.

Meg: That’s a very comprehensive definition. It’s always fascinating to me that while culture is something that’s universal it’s also personal. We all have our perceptions of what it’s about. Can you offer your perspective on why culture matters?

Stuart: We learn from each other as a people. That’s what travel is all about, to meet other people and see their customs, traditions, arts, etc. It really is important as a way of understanding the rest of humanity. At the Market each year, we gather all of the artists on the Santa Fe Plaza in their native costumes. There are 150 artists from 50 countries and about 1500 people from the public and we say ‘This is what world peace looks like.’ Understanding each other is what culture offers.

artisans
Photo courtesy of International Folk Art Market. Photographer: Marc Romanelli

Header Photo courtesy of International Folk Art Market on Facebook.

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