The Santa Fe International Folk Art Market



It’s hard for Santa Fe International Folk Art Market co-founders Judith Espinar and Charlene Cerny to believe that the annual event they helped start six years ago has become such a success.

“In terms of the number of countries represented, the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market is the largest of its kind in the world,” says Cerny, who co-chaired the inaugural market with Espinar and Santa Fe arts supporter Charmay Allred in 2004 and serves as the organization’s executive director. “Last year we had 369 applications and selected 123 artists from 46 different countries across six continents.”

A small folk art exhibition called Focus Folk Art, which was held at The Clay Angel pottery store in Santa Fe in 2003, provided impetus for an event that annually draws more than 20,000 people to Museum Hill during the second weekend in July. Espinar, who owned The Clay Angel from 2000 until she closed it in 2007, brainstormed with the Museum of New Mexico Foundation’s executive director Tom Aageson about expanding the exhibit and creating a larger, community-based folk art event. The rest, it can be said, is history.

“At first, we put on the market for the community,” Espinar explains. “Then, we started doing it for the artists. Now, we do it with the artists.”

Four hundred and fifty women associated with the South African non-profit organization MonkeyBiz are just a few of the artists who benefit from the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, which will be held on July 10 and 11 this year. MonkeyBiz supplies glass beads to women living in the townships of Cape Town and pays each of them to make glass-beaded animals, dolls, magnets, pictures and coasters.

“We were the second biggest seller in the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market last year,” says MonkeyBiz’s co-director Mathapelo Ngaka Mtati via e-mail from South Africa. “Each and every year we have amazing feedback from collectors who come to the Market year after year to add to their MonkeyBiz collection.”

“By attending the Market and selling so many products, the lives of our 450 artists are improved,” she continues. “They are able to put food on the table, buy clothing for their children and pay for school fees.”

Willa Shalit, CEO of Fairwinds Trading, Inc., has a similar story to tell about the Rwandan men and women who weave baskets for the Rwandan handicraft business Gahaya Links.

“We create opportunities for these artisans by linking them with various market opportunities,” Shalit says in an e-mail. “The Santa Fe International Folk Art Market provides an opportunity to showcase their beautiful art while earning an income. Income earned from the sale of one basket can feed a family for a month or provide school supplies for children.”

Venezuelan basket weaver Maigualida Edith
Martinez Nuñez of the Medawa Basket Cooperative demonstrates her technique at the
2008 Santa Fe International Folk Art Market

At the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, visitors are able to purchase pottery from Mexico, baskets from Venezuela, woodblock prints from Brazil, embroidery from Afghanistan and Mongolia, tribal textiles from India, felt work from Kyrgyzstan and jewelry from Uzbekistan and Peru. All work sold is considered folk art, which is defined as art that is rooted in traditions coming from community and culture and expresses cultural identity. Items are utilitarian and/or decorative and can be made out of a wide range of materials including cloth, wood, paper, clay and metal.

At last year’s market there was folk art from 38 cooperatives, which represented one-third of all booths. Dealers and private businesses sponsored 14 percent of the booths. The remaining artists came on their own or were sponsored by non-profit organizations, foundations or individuals. The Folk Art Market fully sponsored 22 artists and their interpreters, covering airfare, food and lodging, through contributions from individuals and private foundations.

Erkebu Djumagulova, felt artist from Kyrgyzstan,
at the 2008 Santa Fe International Folk Art Market.

Artists and cooperatives have to be juried into the Market every year. A five to seven member committee of scholars, educators and collectors get together in Santa Fe to review applications.

“The most important thing we look for is artist excellence,” says Cerny. “Then we look at marketability. We never have dealers on the committee so we don’t have a conflict of interest.”
It also takes the effort of more than 1,500 volunteers sharing close to 17,000 hours of time to present the annual event. Twenty of them work year-round to assist the five-person paid staff and a 27-member board of directors.


While last year’s attendance numbers were up 14.6 percent from 2008 and stood at 23,400 people, gross revenues were slightly down from $2 million in 2008 to $1.95 million in 2009. The average gross sales per booth were $15,100. Artists retain 90 percent of their sales, with the remaining 10 percent covering Market expenses.

Although generating sales is an essential component of the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, educating artists is also an important goal for the organization. The Market’s Artists’ Training Program, which is in its fourth year and is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and UNESCO, exposes artists to practical business skills during the three-day program.

Last year, 58 participants and 37 translators visited Santa Fe’s museums, watched a Cochiti artist weave and make a drum and participated in workshops that demonstrated traditional New Mexico folk arts. They also spent an entire day discussing ideas about pricing, labeling and creatively displaying their work and learning about online marketing and how to secure loans.

“The Artists’ Training Program provides artists with business tools that can be immediately put into action at the Market,” says Cerny. “We believe that experiential learning, together with peer-to-peer knowledge exchange, can have a profound impact.”

In addition to the economic and educational benefits of the Market experience, Espinar says the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market is also about empowerment and opportunities.

“One woman from Swaziland, who attended Market for the first time last year, had no status in her tribe when she came to Santa Fe last summer because she is divorced,” Espinar explains. “When she returned to Swaziland, everything changed. She was appointed to a leadership position in her tribe. We’ve heard this kind of story from artists many times. Their lives can profoundly change after participating in this experience.”

As a way of enhancing the experience of youth attending the Market on Sunday, organizers initiated the Passport Program for kids. Children are invited to follow yellow footsteps marked on the ground that lead to a special booth where they receive a passport. Artists stamp passports with pictures of their nations’ flags while they share information about their countries with the children.

New to this summer’s Market is the Friday evening party and shopping event, which takes place from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on July 9. For $125, guests can not only talk with artists and view work but purchase pieces as well.

The Santa Fe International Folk Art Market 2010 will be held on July 10 and 11 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Museum Hill. Early bird shopping is offered from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Saturday for $50 admission. Regular admission for adults is $10 in advance and $15 at the door on Saturday and $5 on Sunday. Children 16 and younger are always free.

For more information, call (505) 476-1197 or visit


Emily Van Cleve is a Santa Fe-based freelance writer who has contributed feature articles to many local, regional and national publications.

Originally appeared in The Collector’s Guide - Volume 24

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