It's that time of year again when people descend upon Santa Fe in the hundreds of thousands to immerse themselves in the world of Native American art where the cream of the crop in the Indian art world are all gathered in one place to sell their work and hopefully obtain highly coveted awards. Always the third weekend in August, Santa Fe Indian market draws the most dedicated collectors of Indian art from around the world as cultures meet to celebrate the beauty of Native American culture. This year marks the 90th year of the Market's existence, and as it closes in on a full century, almost a century's worth of changes are evident today compared to how the Market was when it began in 1922 (read about the history of Santa Fe Indian Market here).
Indian Market's original objective aimed at bringing together Southwest tribes (especially Pueblo and Navajo people) with well-to-do Indian art patrons who were interested in buying authentic Indian art and learning about their cultures at the same time creating economic opportunities for Indian artisans. Indian art historian Charlene Touchette notes in her book NDN Art that it was the beginning of Indians making art for non-Indian people, essentially creating a new industry. Today Indian art constitutes a multi-billion dollar a year industry and has become a viable career for Native artists who have the wherewithal to learn the market.
From the very beginning of the Indian art business authenticity has been a core concern as art show producers and legislators alike have implemented regulations that aim to ensure the art being produced was made by a "real" Indian, using authentic materials and in a traditional manner. This is a very slippery slope indeed, but with the flooding of the market with fake Indian art from overseas there must be some kind of mechanism to make those distinctions. This is the job of the Southwestern Indian Arts Association (SWAIA), who puts on the market. And it is also because of SWAIA's efforts throughout the decades that the Indian art business has risen to the level of world-class genre of art all its own.