MAR­KETS’ SHARE: IN­DIAN MAR­KET AND IN­DIGE­NOUS FINE ART MAR­KET

Pasatiempo - - STATE OF THE ARTS -

IN the mid-19th cen­tury, the Paris Sa­lon, the of­fi­cial an­nual ex­hibit of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, show­cased the best aca­demic paint­ing of the time. In 1863, two-thirds of the art­works un­der con­sid­er­a­tion for the show were re­jected, lead­ing to the es­tab­lish­ment of the Sa­lon des Re­fusés, an al­ter­nate ex­hibit that con­tained works by Gus­tave Courbet, Édouard Manet, and James McNeill Whistler, to name a few. Many of the artists in the Sa­lon des Re­fusés would go on to even greater renown than some of the con­tem­po­raries fa­vored by the Académie. What led to the al­ter­na­tive ex­hibit was the up­roar caused by the Académie’s rejection of so many works. The artists were out­raged. Some­thing sim­i­lar played out dur­ing In­dian Mar­ket week­end this year, when sev­eral artists who nor­mally show work at the South­west­ern As­so­ci­a­tion for In­dian Arts an­nual event ended up at the In­dige­nous Fine Art Mar­ket (IFAM) in­stead.

SWAIA made ap­ply­ing for a booth at In­dian Mar­ket much more com­pet­i­tive than in pre­vi­ous years, with new guide­lines for judg­ing art­works. This came as a sur­prise to a lot of In­dian Mar­ket artists who were ex­pect­ing to be ju­ried in. Pho­tog­ra­pher Peggy Fon­tenot, mixed-media artist Brent Greenwood, sculp­tor Mark Fis­cher, glass artist Tony Jo­jola, and oth­ers who nor­mally show at In­dian Mar­ket re­ceived letters stat­ing that this year, they didn’t get in. As any artist who ap­plies to ju­ried shows can tell you, the ap­pli­ca­tion process is never a guar­an­tee of place­ment. There are more ap­pli­cants than there are avail­able booths, and SWAIA main­tains a wait­ing list in case a spot should open up. But many of the artists who did not get ju­ried in were award-win­ning artists at pre­vi­ous In­dian Mar­kets who had been par­tic­i­pat­ing for years and, in some cases, decades. “I re­ceived this let­ter on how they have upped their stan­dards, and I didn’t make the cut,” glass artist and long­time In­dian Mar­ket ex­hibitor Tony Jo­jola told Pasatiempo. “What they did was just not right and a lot of it im­pinges on our sales. I had my booth for over 30 years. A num­ber of my clients come year af­ter year. If you’re not there then you pos­si­bly lose out.” Jo­jola, who stud­ied with Vene­tian glass artist Lino Tagli­api­etra and at­tended the pres­ti­gious Pilchuck Glass School in Washington, supplied photos of his work as part of his ap­pli­ca­tion process, in­clud­ing an im­age of An­te­lope Mount ,an award-win­ning sculp­ture from a pre­vi­ous mar­ket year. Jo­jola’s let­ter from SWAIA, which he pro­vided to Pasatiempo, sug­gests that artists have been sub­mit­ting poor im­ages and in­ad­e­quate de­scrip­tions of their artis­tic process. “Con­sid­er­ing the cal­iber of artists com­pet­ing for a booth at In­dian Mar­ket,” states the let­ter, “please make sure that fu­ture ap­pli­ca­tions put for­ward your work in the best pos­si­ble light.” Jo­jola said, “It’s a generic let­ter, but I was pretty of­fended by what it said. It made me feel like it’s the work. But it’s not the work. I mean, I have got­ten noth­ing but good com­ments about the work.”

Sev­eral artists, in­clud­ing Jo­jola, con­tacted John Tor­res Nez, IFAM’s pres­i­dent, and were able to pro­cure space at the In­dige­nous Fine Art Mar­ket. “It wasn’t just a few — I think it was like 50 — artists call­ing me at the last minute, com­pletely bog­gled by the fact that they weren’t in In­dian Mar­ket,” Tor­res Nez told Pasatiempo. “We kind of did a sec­ond ju­ry­ing. The show was full, but I asked for an ex­pan­sion. The fire mar­shal ap­proved it so we could ac­com­mo­date a lot of those other artists.” Pain­ter Ron­ald Chee, who did not get into In­dian Mar­ket, said, “I called IFAM at the last minute, and John was very un­der­stand­ing. If you have a ques­tion for John, he’s right there to an­swer you. He’s not go­ing to hide be­hind a desk, be­hind closed doors.” Some artists had booths in both mar­kets this year. Last year, IFAM staff au­to­mat­i­cally ju­ried in any­one in In­dian Mar­ket who wanted to par­tic­i­pate. That helped swell IFAM’s num­bers, con­sid­er­ing the short amount of time (about four months) the or­ga­niz­ers had to pull the al­ter­na­tive mar­ket to­gether and find ex­hibitors. IFAM ran Thurs­day through Satur­day for its first two years, over­lap­ping with In­dian Mar­ket on Satur­day only. In 2014, Chee started off at IFAM and moved over to In­dian Mar­ket that week­end. “When I re­lo­cated to the Plaza, I felt I was do­ing my part as an artist to sup­port both SWAIA and IFAM.”

IT may be SWAIA’s pre­rog­a­tive to change how it does things, but com­mu­ni­cat­ing those changes to its artists is a ma­jor con­cern. The rejection letters the artists I spoke with re­ceived came as a shock. Ac­cord­ing to SWAIA’s chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer, Dallin May­bee, the judg­ing in years past was based on a scor­ing sys­tem. Three judges awarded

I re­ceived this let­ter on how they have upped their stan­dards, and I didn’t make the cut. What they did was just not right and a lot of it im­pinges on our sales. — long­time In­dian Mar­ket ex­hibitor, glass artist Tony Jo­jola

points con­sid­er­ing a num­ber of cri­te­ria for a per­fect score of 15. “One thing that I no­ticed which was a lit­tle too ar­bi­trary was how do you de­cide how many pain­ters, how many pot­ters, how many jewel­ers get in? Ob­vi­ously, you don’t want ev­ery jeweler to get in or else you’d have a show of 800 jewel­ers and a few hun­dred of ev­ery­body else,” May­bee told Pasatiempo.

For 2015, a panel of three judges con­sid­ered works based on four cri­te­ria: tech­ni­cal ex­e­cu­tion; con­cept/ de­sign/cre­ativ­ity; aes­thet­ics; and In­dian Mar­ket stan­dards. Each judge could award 25 points per cri­te­ria to a per­fect score of 300. “That gave us a very hard line,” May­bee said. To make the se­lec­tion process fair, SWAIA staff came up with a num­ber — 58 per­cent — that could be ap­plied to each cat­e­gory for which artists sub­mit­ted ap­pli­ca­tions. That means that 58 per­cent of jewel­ers could get in, as well as 58 per­cent of bas­ket mak­ers, 58 per­cent of pain­ters, and all other cat­e­gories. “I don’t want to sac­ri­fice one clas­si­fi­ca­tion over another,” May­bee said. “It’s a mat­ter of fun­da­men­tal fair­ness. I had one artist who came in. He’d been here for 24 years. ‘How could I not get in? There should be some mu­tual re­spect.’ I said, ‘You’re a great artist. I know your work, but let me show you what’s hap­pened. We pulled up his im­ages. We pulled up his score. He was maybe eight points off the cut­off, and he was on the wait list. I looked at his score from last year. When you needed a 14, he had an 11. The year be­fore that he had a nine. Some­body didn’t want to have that con­ver­sa­tion with him. If I’m go­ing to be in this job, that’s my job.”

Brent Greenwood lost his booth af­ter be­ing told it would be re­as­signed. “Re­ally, most of the blame can fall back on me,” Greenwood said. “There’s a booth fee, and I missed the fi­nal dead­line. I called about 10 days af­ter the fi­nal dead­line, which is the end of May. They said, at that time, they were go­ing to re­as­sign my booth and that it was too late to pay that booth fee. I men­tioned that it was half­way paid for.” Greenwood had a booth mate who had paid her half of the to­tal fee. Greenwood of­fered to pay a late fee, but SWAIA wouldn’t budge. “They said there’s a wait­ing list, and it wouldn’t be fair to them. I get it and that’s to­tally un­der­stand­able.” But when Greenwood went to see his friend dur­ing In­dian Mar­ket, he found that his for­mer booth mate was oc­cu­py­ing the space her­self. “She said, ‘They called and told me I had to pay the whole fee be­cause you didn’t pay.’ I said, ‘I tried to pay, al­beit late.’ If you say you’re go­ing to re­as­sign the booth, then re­as­sign the booth; don’t put the bur­den of that fi­nan­cial ex­pense on her.”

A some­what sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence awaited Peggy Fon­tenot, who shared her booth with a friend last year. “My friend ended up win­ning First Place and Best of Di­vi­sion for her quilt, which qual­i­fied her for a booth this year,” Fon­tenot said. Her for­mer part­ner com­plained about want­ing a larger booth this year. “I asked her what booth she had. She sim­ply replied, ‘Yours.’ As you can imag­ine, I was dev­as­tated and an­gry.” Fon­tenot had won Sec­ond Place awards in pho­tog­ra­phy at SWAIA for two years run­ning. “I not only lost my booth, I didn’t even make it on their wait list, thus pro­hibit­ing me from shar­ing with some­one,” she said. “I am one of the only pho­tog­ra­phers, and yet I didn’t jury in.” Fon­tenot was asked by a friend to help or­ga­nize IFAM in 2014 be­fore the de­ci­sion to go ahead with the new mar­ket was made public. “I gave it much thought, but at the last mo­ment de­cided to re­main loyal to SWAIA, as it took me years to get a booth,” she said.

Ron­ald Chee ap­plied for the 2015 In­dian Mar­ket but never re­ceived the let­ter stat­ing that his work was not ac­cepted. “I was a 2012 Best of Di­vi­sion win­ner,” he said. This year, he said, “I didn’t find out my re­sults un­til way be­yond the time when the no­ti­fi­ca­tions were sent out. I phys­i­cally had to walk into the SWAIA of­fice and in­sisted on find­ing out whether or not I had a booth as­sign­ment.” Ac­cord­ing to Chee, SWAIA staff were un­able to lo­cate him in the com­puter sys­tem. “They said, ‘As a re­sult, you were not ac­cepted.’ I felt like there was just a real lack of pro­fes­sion­al­ism on their part. If I was de­nied in the process, a let­ter should have been sent to me, but it wasn’t. Hav­ing been in In­dian Mar­ket since 1997, I’ve al­ways turned in qual­ity im­ages when­ever re­quired. I couldn’t get to the bot­tom of it. I wasn’t up­set be­cause I didn’t get in. I was up­set be­cause I didn’t get a let­ter in time to make other ar­range­ments.”

Chee tried to get an­swers from May­bee. “I did email him and wanted to know some de­tails but I never got a re­sponse. I talked to a cou­ple of other artists who had a dif­fi­cult time with their ap­pli­ca­tion process and had also tried to ad­dress the di­rec­tor and were not get­ting a re­sponse.” Jo­jola re­ported his dif­fi­cul­ties in get­ting in­for­ma­tion, as well, when he asked May­bee for the names of the jurors se­lect­ing the artists who would show at the mar­ket. “He would not give me any names. I would like the board to an­swer to some of these ques­tions. Who are the jurors? How could they diss these artists who have been so loyal to SWAIA over the years?”

Ac­cord­ing to May­bee, the ju­ry­ing process is blind, but for an artist with a long history of show­ing at Mar­ket, a rejection can feel per­sonal. “It is a rejection,

SWAIA made ap­ply­ing for a booth at In­dian Mar­ket much more com­pet­i­tive than in pre­vi­ous years, with new guide­lines for judg­ing art­works. This came as a sur­prise to a lot of In­dian Mar­ket artists who were ex­pect­ing to get in.

so it feels like an at­tack, but it’s not,” said May­bee, who re­sponded to Jo­jola’s frus­tra­tions about get­ting in­for­ma­tion. “Tony came to me and said, ‘Hey, I’m one of five glass artists in town. How did I not get in?’ ‘Well, you’re com­pet­ing with all of sculp­ture, not just glass. I know your stuff is good.’ ‘He said, ‘Could it be that I did IFAM last year?’ I said, ‘Tony, I don’t know who did IFAM. I don’t have time to worry about that.’ He said, ‘I heard you could jump me in to the show?’ I said, ‘I could, but I’m not go­ing to do it. It’s not fair to the ones who got in with a high enough score. It’s not fair to the ones who didn’t get in.’”

Fon­tenot, too, had her dif­fi­cul­ties in get­ting in­for­ma­tion from SWAIA. “I con­tacted Dallin im­me­di­ately, and we went back-and-forth,” she said. “Ul­ti­mately, I was told that my work did not meet their stan­dards of qual­ity this year. I was told that they have cre­ated a new scor­ing sys­tem and I fell be­low the grade.”

Is­sues be­tween artists and In­dian Mar­ket or­ga­niz­ers are noth­ing new. Last April, Tor­res Nez, SWAIA’s for­mer chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer; Tail­inh Agoyo, di­rec­tor of public re­la­tions; and Paula Rivera, artist ser­vices as­so­ciate, all re­signed. In a mat­ter of weeks, they be­gan or­ga­niz­ing the vol­un­teer-run IFAM at the urg­ing of Na­tive artists. “I’ve had a real up-and-down re­la­tion­ship with SWAIA over the years,” Chee said. “I think it’s nor­mal with the changes of di­rec­tors, all of them hav­ing their vi­sion for SWAIA and where they want to take it. Artists are caught in be­tween whether they agree or dis­agree with the changes. Some­times, as a con­se­quence, they don’t get booths.”

May­bee, who stepped in as SWAI’s in­terim COO in af­ter Tor­res Nez re­signed, has had his hands full re­spond­ing to the flood of ques­tions from re­jected artists. “I had around 80 peo­ple reach out to me right around the time of the ju­ry­ing, and I tried to get to ev­ery sin­gle one of them,” he said. “Some of them we didn’t get to. I’m an artist. I’ve been here since 2001. I won Best of Show in ’07. I’m very con­scious about main­tain­ing trans­parency and fair­ness and ed­u­cat­ing the artists as to the process be­cause it was a mys­tery for me. I just knew that I sub­mit an ap­pli­ca­tion and ei­ther I get in or I don’t get in. Ev­ery year I would worry about get­ting in even af­ter I won Best of Show.” May­bee also had a booth at In­dian Mar­ket this year and was ju­ried in by the same process as other artists. “I’m not ex­empt at all,” he said, “and, ac­tu­ally, I didn’t have any work this year at In­dian Mar­ket. I shared a booth with my mom. She prob­a­bly loved the ex­tra space. The only piece I pro­duced I do­nated to the live auc­tion gala.”

Chee was told that SWAIA changed things up over con­cerns about tenured artists and a lack of avail­able booths for new ex­hibitors. SWAIA’s tenure­ship pro­gram al­lows master artists to oc­cupy booths with­out first hav­ing to be ju­ried in. “They told me tenured artists oc­cupy about 40 per­cent of the avail­able booths, and only 60 per­cent is open to new art com­ing in. In my opin­ion, that 40 per­cent com­ing in has ac­tu­ally el­e­vated SWAIA over the years to be­come the mar­ket it has.” SWAIA re­serves about 400 slots for tenured, non­juried artists. “The tenure­ship pro­gram is the next big is­sue,” said May­bee, who would like to do away with the pro­gram. “There’s an in­her­ent un­fair­ness about that pro­gram. I don’t want peo­ple to feel their work is sub­stan­dard. It’s just got to be fair.”

While May­bee seems to be ad­dress­ing the is­sues of fair­ness in the judg­ing process, there are kinks in the ef­fec­tive im­ple­men­ta­tion of these plans, as ev­i­denced by the num­ber of artists who con­tacted IFAM when they didn’t get into In­dian Mar­ket. If May­bee is com­mit­ted to main­tain­ing trans­parency at SWAIA, which has a history of be­ing dif­fi­cult to get in­for­ma­tion from, it could help al­le­vi­ate crit­i­cism of the or­ga­ni­za­tion. Let’s hope that the cur­rent is­sues are just hic­cups on the road to a more eq­ui­table en­try process for fu­ture mar­kets.

The tenure­ship pro­gram is the next big is­sue. There’s an in­her­ent un­fair­ness about that pro­gram. I don’t want peo­ple to feel their work is sub­stan­dard. It’s just got to be fair. — Dallin May­bee, SWAIA’s chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer

Top, Dallin May­bee and his son Sage dur­ing the 2014 SWAIA Best of Show cer­e­mony; bot­tom, Chris­tine McHorse, a vol­un­teer judge, ex­am­ines a pot in 2008

Dustin Mater at his booth at IFAM, 2015, photo Max Mcdon­ald; top left, Peggy Fon­tenot with her pho­to­graph Ur­ban Chiefs at the 2014 Win­ter In­dian Mar­ket; bot­tom left, glass artist Tony Jo­jola work­ing hot glass, photo Lau­rent Guerin

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