Making a World of Difference by Bonnie and Bill Neely

In July for the past five years Santa Fe, New Mexico, has sponsored a not-to-miss event: The Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. With travel expenses high this is the perfect way to enable your family to “see the world.” The weekend is filled with many wonderful acitivites, which include concerts and impromptu music from around the world, dancers in colorful native costumes, international foods for unique and delicious tastes, and arts and crafts of superior folk craftsmen and women from over forty countries. We were fortunate to attend last year and are making plans to return this year, July 11 and 12, 2009.
The festival was first conceived at a lunch conversation of serveral women who knew how to organize and make their dream come true. With a host of tireless volunteers the market has grown each year, enlightening and entertaining thousands of visitors and locals each summer. In 2008, over 100 artists from 41 countries were represented at the market where many different native and unique crafts were displayed and sold. Artists submit their work and are chosen by professional jurors to insure that only the finest quality of handwork, craftsmanship, and art are displayed. Artists take home 93 percent of the proceeds, and this helps not only the individual artists but also their families and communities at home. The crafts people come from very low income, struggling parts of the world, many torn by war or governmental unrest. The impact of this money in these poor regions is tremendous, providing schools, books, teachers, livestock, more food, and a better way of life, especially for women and children.
UNESCO has become a sponsor of the Santa Fe International Art Market, and the market has attained non-profit status, which has enabled more businesses and individuals to become sponsors. UNESCO declared Santa Fe ” one of UNESCO’s Creative Cities and City of Folk Art,” an honor no other city in the United States has been bestowed. UNESCO also sponsors a booth called “The Best of the Best” in which extra fine craftsmanship is recognized and honored. The items chosen for the market represent the local culture and the preservation of local heritage arts and crafts, skills that might die without this inpetus. Artists are encouraged not only to continue ancient crafts of their region, but also to teach other local citizens and children how to carry on the cultural arts. Most of these artists have learned their skills from parents and grandparents for generations, but with the world becoming a global economy these crafts were in danger of being lost because creators could not support themselves. A special and unique feature of the Santa Fe Art Market is that the artists selected are sponsored in their travels here and have several days of learning how to promote and market their creations and form a business that thrives. They are taught Internet skills and each commits to check email at least once a week. Last year the artists were taught about Internet marketing. The time spent in Santa Fe has huge impact with far reaching results throughout the world and for generations to come.
Last year for the first time the Market initiated a special program for children to enter free and had fun activities to encourage them to relate to the artists and learn about their countries. On Sunday, Family Day, the first 500 children received “Passports Books” to collect a flag stamp from each of the countries represented. The artists had interpreters who showed the children where each country was located on a world map and talk to each child about the arts of that country. Children loved this activity and their knowledge of the world cultures was stimulated tremendously through this educational and fun activity.
Items for sale included jewelry and ornaments of various metals, many woven and embroidered items, wood crafts, music instruments, painted clay items, baskets, ceramics, enamel work, bead work, tiles, rugs of many types, dolls, clothing, shoes, and many other items, each unique and exquisitely crafted. The items were not bargain priced but .priced for their true value internationally, so that each artist could earn a living and help his or her community.

Although some of these items could be purchased more reasonably if you traveled to that country, the items there would be of inferior quality and you would have the huge travel costs. With that in mind, each item was a terrific find and worthy of folk art collectors, or to be proudly displayed, or used in the home of anyone. Each time one looked at the purchased item within his home, he or she would have the great satisfaction of thinking of how the money spent impacted an entire community somewhere in the world to help raise people out of poverty and become self sufficient and proud of their culture.

For those attending the market, one of the very special features is seeing the native craftsmen and women in their colorful and beautiful native costumes demonstrating how they make their particular art forms. We were fascinating by the African man using his foot to hold the flat metal while he hammered an intricate design into it without drawing the pattern first. Another lovely woman was creating a colorful basket using telephone wire. There were several weavers sitting on the ground with their portable looms. A woman from Peru demonstrated how she makes thousands of tiny figures on gourds by carving with a nail and then scorching the pattern to create the shading. On the music stage children were having fun playing the mirimba with native musicians. Crowds stood mesmerized by the Thai dancers in elaborate dragon costumes.

Many of the artists speak English and others have an interpreter, so the interaction and friendships formed is very meaningful to adults and children. I could only imagine how each of these beautiful people felt traveling so far to a country so different from their own and how it would change their thoughts and their lives forever. I also could only imagine the tireless and amazing work the volunteers and staff of the Santa Fe Market have so faithfully done for months and years to make this market so meaningful to each of the thousands of people there: artists, tourists, and Santa Fe residents. The planning has been impeccable and the crowd-handling is flawless. There are designated free parking lots in town with free shuttle buses running constantly to the Market’s location on Museum Hill, so that no one has to wait going either way. Each year more activities have been added and last year, in addition to the business and marketing lessons for artists, there was a party for donors to meet the artists and several evening concerts by ethnic musicians.
Santa Fe is an excellent destination in itself, with Spanish and Native American history, many art galleries and local artists and craftsmen and women, excellent shopping and dining opportunities, winter skiing, year-round hiking and outdoor sports of all kinds, casinos, Native American Pueblos to visit and sometimes Feast Days to observe. But the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market in July is definitely the time to make your visit to this special city. This, the largest International Folk Art Market in the United States, takes place on Museum Hill instead of the busy town square. On Museum Hill are several fascinating museums which are open during the Market. The most impressive is The Museum of International Folk Art, where you will see other types are arts and crafts from around the world also. There are many flights into Alburquerque, about an hour away, and United Airlines and Mesa Airlines fly into Santa Fe.