The 2023 summer Indian art market season gets underway across America Memorial Day weekend in Santa Fe with the 19th annual Native Treasures market at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. The following weekend, the 37th annual Red Earth Festival in Oklahoma City returns to its regular dates – the first Weekend in June – at the National Cowboy Museum and Western Heritage Center.
The more I’ve learned about Native American art and artists, the more I’ve come to understand how important the summer “circuit” of art festivals are to thousands of Native artists across America, especially the West, many of whom derive the vast majority of their annual income – in some cases, all of it – from selling artwork created throughout the year at these events.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the precarity of this lifestyle when it cancelled a full year’s worth of Indian art markets and, in some cases, two. Many Native artists on the market circuit are older. Many of them don’t have websites providing for online sales. Many don’t even have internet access where they live.
For 100 years, the markets were always there. Until, suddenly, they weren’t.
These artists are like farmers, in a sense, making hay while the sun shines. They work year-round, but their sales are seasonal – their harvest, if you will – nearly exclusively occurring over the summer months, in person, at Indian Art Markets. Like a farmer facing a summer drought, many Native artists who can’t sell their work at these events during the summer, has no way of recouping those lost earnings any other time of the year.
Recognizing this, SWAIA Indian Market – the grandaddy of them all – began setting up micro retail websites for its hundreds of artists in the summer of 2020, realizing the Market was not going to take place leaving a majority of its participants without a huge chunk of their annual income.
Indian Markets are the best way to purchase Native American art. Buying direct from the artists, you can be assured of authenticity and all of the sale goes directly to the artist. Additionally, you can generally get your picture taken with the artist and your purchase, and oftentimes, particularly over years of attending these events, personal acquaintances with the artists form.
At the Red Earth Festival, attendees also receive the added benefit of being able to visit one of the finest collections of Western art in the nation at the Cowboy Museum.
General admission, single day tickets to the festival cost $15 and can be purchased in advance online. Children under 6 are free with a paying adult.