Indigenous Artist to Artist (Part 1): Adapting To Pandemic & Daring to Dream

MATIKA WILBUR: Hi, I'm Matika Wilbur, co-host of all my relations with Dr. Keene.

ADRIENNE KEENE: Adrienne here. Thanks for tuning in. Big wado to all of you. We love you so much. And this is only possible because you're here. So thank you for subscribing, sharing and tuning in.

MATIKA: Absolutely. We're so honored to be back here with you again. And today and for the next few episodes, we are dedicating space to some of our artsy indigenous relatives. We have all been so dramatically impacted by COVID-19 our world has changed in ways that many of us would have never dreamed possible. This pandemic swept across the planet and left none of us untouched. And we are all doing our best to try to figure out how to navigate this challenging time.

ADRIENNE: It's true, every area of our lives has been impacted by the pandemic and all the stay at home orders. And we've spent so much time worried about our relatives, some of whom have been more impacted than others. But we've definitely been worried. And for those, worried for those that are sick and suffering, for those that are out of work, for those that are mourning losses of loved ones and for those who aren't safe at home, I've also been really worried about our kiddos and those trying to navigate online school and those in higher ed. And we want to extend our love and solidarity to all of you and we really want to help.

MATIKA: Our team keeps asking itself, what is the best way to be useful to our relatives? What does it mean to be a good relative right now? Of course, there is the upfront work we can all do, the social distancing, the mask wearing, the hand washing and sanitizing till our hands are cracking.

ADRIENNE: And we also can be good relatives to the social uprisings happening nationally, we can support the Black Lives Matter movement, we can be active citizens and vote, we can donate when possible, and we can send racial justice in our lives.

MATIKA: Absolutely. And since we are storytellers over here at all my relations, we feel as though we have a responsibility to tell empowering stories from the heart of Native America. And since we all know that Native America’s always underrepresented, we think moving forward that it's a really good idea to dedicate space to those being dramatically affected by COVID-19.

ADRIENNE: Right. And right now, in the third week of August, we'd all be gearing up for art market, which is short for Santa Fe Indian Art Market, or SWAIA. And it's this little tradition of ours. We rent a casita, we get hashtag Santa Fancy with our homegirl Jessica from Beyond Buckskin, and we go and take in the joy of some of the finest jewelry and fashion and visual art that Native America has to offer. And it's really fun.

MATIKA: Super fun. Of course, we aren't there right now as everything is canceled, which is alarming because according to SWAIA’s website, it attracts over a hundred and fifteen thousand visitors from all over the world to buy art directly from a thousand artists, from over 200 tribes in the U.S. and Canada.

ADRIENNE: It's this huge market that spans 17 city blocks in downtown Santa Fe, New Mexico, and AT SWAIA, the money from sales goes right into the artist's hands. According to SWAIA’s website, in 2018, an economic impact study showed the direct and indirect spending during Indian market totaled 165 million dollars for northern New Mexico. And SWAIA provides enormous economic opportunities. Many artists make a third to half of their yearly income at the event.

MATIKA: And on this topic of economy, according to a study published by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, quote, Throughout most Native American communities, racial economic inequality is a consistent characteristic. Based on the 2013 to 2017 study, the median income of Native households was forty thousand three hundred and fifteen, which pales in comparison to the white household median income of sixty six thousand nine hundred and forty three.

ADRIENNE: The numbers are staggering and there's also the fact that philanthropic dollars aren't matching the population. For example, according to the First Nations Development Institute, quote, the share of total foundation dollars awarded to Native organizations and causes average only six tenths of one percent, so point six percent of foundation giving. First Nations also found that in most years, the majority of grant dollars supposedly aimed at supporting Native communities and causes are not awarded to Native controlled nonprofit organizations. Looking at giving from 2007 to 2014, Native controlled organizations received only about 48 percent. And since Native Americans make up two percent of the population, it would make sense that philanthropic dollars should match that.

MATIKA: Dang point six percent. That's wild.

ADRIENNE: So, although SWAIA is responding and taking the market online, which we’ll definitely share links to, we thought it might be a good idea to check in with our artist friends and see how they're doing. So today you'll hear parts of our zoom conversation with Waddie Crazyhorse, J. Nicole Hatfield and Pat Pruitt.

ADRIENNE: Pat is a talented Laguna Pueblo and Apache metalsmith who likes to push boundaries and expand the definition of what is considered Native art. He came to fine art jewelry through the world of body piercing and learning to make his own jewelry there. And he now uses materials like titanium and complex contemporary processes to produce creative modern jewelry that reflects his cultural roots. Right now, he's working on these incredible titanium feather earrings that are colored brightly using some fancy sublimation process or something. But they look like something a futuristic Native warrior woman would wear, and I absolutely love them. So he starts by telling us how covid has deeply impacted the Indian art community.

PAT PRUITT: Everything started happening in the March timeframe, right? So we had the Heard show that those of us that were able to to participate in that, we had that. But you could sense something was coming, right? I mean, the attendance wasn't as high. And, man, shortly after that is when the ish just hit the fan. Right. Like states are closing down. Like for for those of us here in the Pueblos, like the pueblos shut down really early. I mean, and fast. Yeah, just like straight up. No visitors. And then and then you really started hearing the reaction by organizations. Right. SWAIA then put out the notice that, like, we're going to postpone Indian Market. There are a number of other shows that I do outside of the Native art market. Those shows are being canceled. I potentially had a museum opening like a solo exhibition slated for this year from the Heard museum that gets postponed. So like all this all this postponement, like, really happen rapidly right at the very beginning, which I will say I'm very grateful that that happened then because you can now plan right, we’re no longer, we're not reacting to what's happening. And I think that's what's really made a transition, in a sense, a little more thoughtful and a little more purposeful, because essentially I think all of us in the Native art field, we were, I would argue, to say we were 100 percent or I say 100 a very high percentage, like 80 to 90 percent reliant on shows for revenue generation. And as you go into March and April and realize your entire year is gone, like there's zero opportunity, I think everybody really just dug deep and really started to think, OK, how am I going to get through this? You know, especially for those of us who are full time artists. I mean, I've been full time for well over 20 years. It's it's [] now. So so I think I think with any with any culture that's been resilient for centuries. Right, your Native population has really taken, taking the bull by the horns and really developing either innovative ways to to change their revenue dynamic or just using what they already have, which is, I think, the case for most of us through social media these days. Right. I mean, being able to push stuff out to get the word out, to say, hey, look, this is what I have available. And I think more importantly, there has been a lot of empathy in the sense that people within within the Native art community and I think even a much broader sense, those that collect art or are fans of makers, that they realize it's like if something is coming out right now, the only way to acquire it is online. Right. There's no shows. So so I think you're seeing the dynamic, the buying dynamic change a little bit more. Yeah.

ADRIENNE: I really appreciate what Pat said here, and I think the challenge is going to be who will come out on top in this