Category Archives: Santa Fe International Folk Art Market

The Santa Fe International Folk Art Market

The largest international folk art festival in the world, in 2012 150 artists from 54 countries participated and over 20,000 people attended the Market.

The Market showcases master craftsmanship passed down through families, generations, and cultures: colorful beaded jewelry from Kenya; gorgeous silk scarves from Kyrgyzstan; exquisite ceramics from France.

Many of the artists come from developing countries, where the average income is less than $3 a day and where political, social, and environmental hardships can make everyday life-not to mention the creation of art-challenging.  In the past nine years, artists at the Market have earned more than $14 million dollars.  In 2011, 90 percent of the Market’s $2.3 million in sales went directly to the artists, or an average of $17,300 per booth.

The proceeds earned at previous Markets have helped to build schools, wells, and health clinics in a number of Third World countries. They have, for example, brought food, clothing, and medical care to Sudanese refugee camps, AIDS support to South Africa, and financial independence for Afghan women.

That’s a powerful bottom line: One weekend in Santa Fe provides artists the financial ability to radically improve their lives and their communities. Actor Ali MacGraw-a longtime Santa Fe resident and supporter of the arts-calls it “monumental money.”

One young Afghan weaver who sells intricately hand embroidered scarves and shawls is now able to afford to send her sisters to school. A 38-year old grandmother from a remote village in Madagascar was able to provide basic electricity and water to her village. A Rwandan basket weaver supplied women with a home garden and mosquito nets; and Maasai beaders from Kenya were able to buy chickens to feed villagers during a terrible drought. A Niger silversmith made enough money at last year’s market to buy three months’ worth of food for over 500 people in nearby villages. The money a Haitian artist earned from her dream-inspired sequin flags helped support her extended family that was left homeless after the devastating earthquake of 2010.

More than 97 percent of participating Market artists come from developing countries, where per capita annual incomes range from $250 to $1,500. “Many of these artists grapple daily with political, social, and environmental challenges in their home countries,” points out Judith Espinar, Creative Director and Co-Founder of the Market. “Yes, the Market makes a real difference in their lives, and at the same time they touch our lives in so many important ways.”

It is this sharing, the cultural interchange, that makes the Market such a unique event. The benefits of the Market flow both to the artists and to visitors, who not only discover wonderful (and often very affordable) artwork at the Market but also remarkable stories. Browsing at the Market often leads to encounters with the artists and a clearer understanding of world conditions.

In addition, visitors can enjoy exotic food as well as live, free world music on several stages, ranging from Latin rock to Japanese Shigin chanting. The Market represents, in other words, a readily affordable weekend of global experiences and connections, an overseas trip without the overseas plane fare.

The Market is held at Milner Plaza, next to the world-famous Museum of  International Folk Art. Please see the website for ticket prices and details:

This article is a compliation of past press releases from the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market.

Panel winnows down applicants for folk art market

Anne Constable | The New Mexican
Posted: Monday, November 22, 2010.  This article was syndicated from The New Mexican, click here for the original article.

2011 Algerian Berber Culture jewelry application from Karim Oukid Ouksel

Judy Espinar, a founder of the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, called this event the “heart of the market.”

It is the three days in late November when a selection committee meets to evaluate the hundreds of applications received from around the globe and choose those artists who will be invited to Santa Fe for the popular July event.

The process ensures the work for sale is authentic and of the highest quality, and, Espinar said, “Without it we would not have succeeded.”

The stakes are high for these artists, some of whom have never left their villages. Earnings from the market can — and have — meant they can send children to school, pay for health insurance or pipe fresh drinking water into their communities. In one case, an Afghan co-op used some of its market revenue to train female beggars in traditional embroidery, enabling them to earn income safely at home, and, they say, removing them from the streets of Kandahar.

Being chosen for the market — the largest of its kind in the world — is also a validation of the artists’ skills and the value of their work in preserving and sustaining the culture of their communities.

This year, 403 artists or artist cooperatives submitted applications. Under the direction of Suzanne Seriff, a committee of six experts, many with doctoral degrees, evaluated them, looking for a geographic balance, a wide choice of genres and prices, and a 60-40 ratio of new artists to returning ones.

2011 application from Ukraine: pottery by Golovko Mykhailo

The market is always looking for new work to keep visitors interested in coming back, while continuing to present the art of masters that marketgoers expect. Looking to enhance the visitors’ experience, it also has a preference for applications in which the artist plans to be present in Santa Fe, as opposed to a dealer or nonprofit representative.

Some applications are rejected outright because of shoddy workmanship or because the committee does not believe the work would sell here. “Quality and marketability are essential,” Seriff said. “If we thought something would not sell, we would not approve bringing it here.”

Applications are also turned down because the design, materials or form are not traditional. The market doesn’t accept Western clothing, even if it is made from traditional textiles, or trinkets like cell phone covers or eyeglass holders, although it does approve of items like place mats and table runners that might originally have had other uses.

Other times it’s a close call. One application from Kyrgyzstan was still being discussed Sunday. The design (the sacred symbol of mother deer) of the shawl was expertly rendered in felt, sandwiched on either side of a layer of silk cloth.

“It’s a delicate balance,” market director Charlene Cerny said. “We don’t want to put folk art under a bell jar.”

But a company that is keeping indigo dyeing alive in a Malinese village — accepted last year after a long debate — was rejected for 2011 because the artisans are now using linen cloth that they didn’t weave themselves.

So too a Nigerian painter. “I’d love to have his work on my wall, but it’s not traditional art,” said Diana Baird N’Diaye, a committee member from the Smithsonian Institution.

One of the first-time applications that was accepted came from Association Sahalandy, a group of silk weavers in the highlands of Madagascar who make hand-woven, naturally dyed scarves, bed covers, tablecloths and other products, ranging from $35 to $150.

2011 applicant from Indonesia: Ni Wayan Widiarmini; beaded baskets

A former Peace Corps volunteer from the area, who is now a small-enterprise development volunteer, helped the women prepare their application, which requires a detailed description of how the folk art is made. Their process is laborious.

“First, cocoons are sliced at one end to remove the pupa. They are then turned inside out and stacked on top of each other over a peg. Once bundled, they are boiled for a couple of hours and then rinsed. Afterward, the silk is thrown onto brick walls and dried in the sun. The clumps are then pulled into large balls to be spun.” The yarn is then dyed using tree bark (deep red), mud (black) mushrooms (yellow) and other natural resources.

Some applicants might lose out because their category is particularly competitive — African baskets, for example — but the odds are better in other genres, like ceramics, wood and leather, which are more threatened around the world.

Although giving young people a reason to continue to make traditional folk art is a “huge issue” for the market, in the words of Baird N’Diaye, applying is not easy — nor is it meant to be. Artists must complete an eight-page form (in triplicate) and submit five to 10 high-quality, clearly labeled photographs of each distinct type of folk art they would be bringing to market, as well as three photographs of each artist who will attend. Some applications are fairly slick, others are handwritten in broken English. In Kyrgyzstan, a travel agent supplements her living by helping people prepare the forms.

Applicants are responsible for obtaining their own passports and visas — although the market provides them with advice on how to go about it — and arranging to ship their artwork.

“They have to be ambitious enough to get here,” noted Cerny. “But a wide variety of people somehow find a way.”

The application includes a section on artistic and cultural information in which applicants are asked to explain how they learned to make the folk art, its history, how it represents their community’s cultural traditions and how the work is used in daily life or for special occasions. The market also asks applicants to tell their personal stories and how art fits into their lives.

Each member of the committee does the initial review of applications from a particular part of the world. But the final decisions are made by majority vote (consensus was found to be too difficult) of the entire committee.

The scorecard, or matrix, rates the applications on artistic quality, marketability, traditionality of form or final product, and traditionality of design or materials, as well as on whether the production process is rooted in tradition, how the artistic knowledge was acquired and the community use of the item. There’s also a place to check whether the artist has a compelling story.

Rejection letters explain the reason the applicant was turned down but invite artists to contact Seriff for a more complete explanation. Many do, she said.

So far, the 2011 market looks new and fresh, said Espinar, who observed the process last weekend. And she expects that will continue for a long time to come because “we have the world. There’s no end to it.”

2011 dates: July, 8, 9, 10

2010 Market Facts

132 artists from 50 countries

22,167 people attended

$2.1 million in artists’ sales

$13.5 million in local spending by visitors (outside of Market)

$16.1 million estimated total economic impact

1,600 volunteers

Artist applications

2011: 403

2010: 361

New artists:

2011: 57 percent

2010: 48 percent

Artists requesting financial assistance:

2011: 31 percent

2010: 28 percent

Countries represented:

2011: 63; 2010: 63

Countries with most applicants:

2011: Uzbekistan, 66; Mexico, 45

2010: Uzbekistan, 71; Mexico, 43

Artist Selection Committee

Suzanne Seriff, senior lecturer, Department of Anthropology, University of Texas at Austin

Diana Baird N’Diaye, Smithsonian Institution, Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Africa

Barbara C. Anderson, director of museum resources, New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, Mexico

Marsha C. Bol, director of the Museum of International Folk Art, Latin America

Felicia Katz-Harris, curator of Asian and Middle Eastern collections, Museum of International Folk Art, Asia, Middle East, Europe

Melinne Owen, artist, volunteer, China, Tibet, Mongolia, Uzbekistan