Did Folk Art Market treat its artists fairly?

September 2, 2018

With a new incoming chief executive officer at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, I will be interested to see how a seminal issue at the 2018 market will be addressed. Jeff Snell, resigning CEO of IFAM, stated in a My View in The New Mexican (“2018 Folk Art Market — a remarkable accomplishment,” July 22), that average artist sales equal “more than $21,000.”

What this statement doesn’t tell us is if this figure reflects a 20 percent deduction from artists’ profits. First-year artists and those making less than $10,000 were not levied this rather astonishing increased deduction, twice what it has been in past years. Even more surprising and honestly, recondite, is the fact that this news came out after artists had applied for the market.

To ascertain if the $21,000 figure is with or without the 20 percent, I inquired more than once of the market for clarification. Officials there did not answer. Oddly enough, as far as I can gather, there has never been a public announcement or acknowledgement of this change. In fact, articles in New Mexico Magazine, in the Albuquerque Journal North, in The New Mexican and on the radio simply either mentioned that artists took home 90 percent of their earnings or just said they take home most of their earnings.

Who made the decision to double the market’s take of artists’ sales and why? Although some artists do very well at the market, many do not. Among the artists I spoke to, the move seemed directly negotiated to put more money in the coffers of the International Folk Art Market, not those of the artists. Many of the artists were depressed; some sobbed at payout once they realized how little they had made; and many questioned whether they could ever afford to return to the market, or if they even wanted to.

Certainly, artists would have supported funneling more money and resources into artists’ pockets, projects and communities. For hardworking artists whose artist communities are in many cases anxiously relying on their sales as the only means of supporting their families, this decision was disincentivizing, at the very least. It’s disconcerting for the artists with whom I worked to understand how they could have basically sold out this year but earned roughly the same amount as last year when they had moderate sales.

The International Folk Art Market is listed as a nonprofit organization, so one wonders where this extra levy goes. Perhaps it supports opening new markets in other places. Perhaps it supports substantial administrative salaries. Perhaps it helps pay for a new building downtown. But it certainly does not go to market artists.

The artists who come to the market are well-known and respected in their own communities, and they proudly show their art at the market. It’s a remarkable accomplishment that the International Folk Art Market is able to bring these disparate artists to a one-of-a-kind world event. Let’s make sure that the artists are supported, recognized and recompensed in the manner they should be.

Jane Abbott, Ph.D., has worked for many years with low-income, first-generation students.

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