Visiting Indian Market for the first time? Here are our tips
By Chadd Scott
Sunday crowd at SWAIA Indian Market 2022| Photo by Chadd Scott
One hundred years of Indian Market in Santa Fe and my first. I was invited by the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts to attend its annual gathering in 2022, the centennial celebration of the largest, oldest and most prestigious Indigenous arts market in the world.
Among the tens of thousands attending the event, countless have been doing so for decades. Much like the artists themselves, they’ve made Indian Market an annual tradition. I hope to.
Until I become an old salt at Market, and with the hope of encouraging as many other newbies like myself to make the pilgrimage, here are my first-timer tips for attending Santa Fe Indian Market.
Writer Chadd Scott with Kathleen Wall, Jemez Pueblo, inside her SWAIA Indian Market booth 2022| Photo by Chadd Scott
Before arriving in Santa Fe
It likely goes without saying, but you’ll want to book hotel accommodations long before arrival. With nearly 150,000 visitors traveling to Santa Fe for Market pre-pandemic, six months out is not at all too early to begin finding a place. While we’re on the subject of hotels, with the extraordinary demand, it’s impossible to stay in town on the cheap. Even typically budget, no-frills hotels charge in excess of $300 a night during Market week.
Thursday night I stayed at one such place, the El Sendero Inn, which is within walking distance of the Plaza. It’s typical rate for a single room with a king bed is around $150. By the time taxes and fees were applied on my reservation, I was out $350.
Friday through Sunday I stayed at the El Dorado Hotel perfectly located two blocks from the Plaza. It’s pricey, but the ideal location will prevent you from having to park a car or take a shuttle to visit the artist booths. That allows you to be efficient with your time, avoid endless hassles and take rest breaks back in your room – or at El Dorado’s fabulous rooftop pool with views of Indian Market – throughout the day.
Indian Market runs from 8 AM to 5 PM Saturday and Sunday. On the Saturday of my first Market it rained all day. It could just as easily have been 95-degrees. Staying at a hotel within walking distance to dry off, cool down, and use your own bathroom will prove invaluable. I’m not a luxury unit, but Porta Potties aren’t my thing.
Indian Market weekend features 1,100 artist booths, performances at the Plaza, a half-dozen satellite markets around town, fashion shows and dozens of gallery openings and important exhibitions hosted by the area’s museums. You won’t be able to see everything you’d like to. Impossible. What you can do is prioritize.
Each year Native American Art magazine publishes a guide to SWAIA Indian Market, complete with artist booth locations, a schedule of events, and advertisements from galleries promoting their artist receptions. A subscription to the magazine costs $40 per year and will allow you to hit the ground running in Santa Fe without missing anything – or anyone.
My biggest first-timer’s surprise at Indian Market was the number of artist receptions at the galleries around town. Big-time artist receptions. I met Tony Abeyta, Virgil Ortiz, Kevin Red Starr and Jeffrey Gibson at galleries and museums Thursday through Sunday. My schedule wouldn’t allow me to see Preston Singletary. Legends every one!
Without the magazine, I would have been unaware of these opportunities.
Heavy-duty collectors will also want to scope out which artists are attending and plan to visit their booths as early as possible on Saturday for pick of the litter. Bring a physical copy of the magazine with you. I have Verizon as my wireless provider and found data service sketchy, to be kind, throughout Santa Fe all weekend. With that many people and that many booths, finding which one you’re looking for without the guide is a needle in a haystack.
Bring cash. Most artists accept credit cards, but not all of them.
Think about a budget for purchases. It’s easy to become wrapped up in the energy of the event – not to mention all of the amazing artwork – and spend far beyond what you’re comfortable with. Remember those travel expenses which will be coming due on subsequent bills.
Be sure to check the weather. Like I mentioned, it rained all day my first day at Market. Fortunately, I packed rain gear. Temperatures and conditions vary wildly in northern New Mexico in August. Be prepared.
Mateo Romero booth at SWAIA Indian Market 2022| Photo by Chadd Scott
During Indian Market
While artists arrive around 5 AM to begin setting up booths, I walked over to the Plaza from the El Dorado Saturday morning around 7:30. There was no reason to arrive that early, I simply couldn’t sleep any longer – too excited.
On a better weather day, catching the sunrise amid the artists setting up their booths would have been a treat. On warmer days, early arrival lets you beat the heat.
Again, if you’re a serious collector with a wish-list, you’ll want to have your copy of Native American Art magazine and a preset to-do list of who you’ll be visiting. Many artists sell out. If you want your pick of a Mateo Romero painting or a Kathleen Wall ceramic figure, be early.
If you are shopping, realize that most of the artists don’t hold items and ship unlike galleries do. You buy it, you take it. There is an onsite packing and shipping facility although its hard to find. Remember to factor this cost in with your purchase.
Most importantly, take this rare opportunity of being around so many artists. Say “hi.” Let them know you admire their work. Ask questions. Don’t interrupt a potential sale and don’t linger, but chat. The artists are in their booths nine hours for two consecutive days, they’ll appreciate the conversation.
I’m reminded of what Comanche painter Eric Tippeconnic told me.
“If you're a first timer and you want to take it all in, I would try to spend as much time as you can talking to people and engaging with them and trying to find out about why they're doing what they’re doing,” he said.
I took home a small ceramic cat from an Acoma potter as a gift at my first Indian Market, far more valuable were the conversations I had with artists who I’ve long followed.
You’ll need to rest your feet and eat at some point. Numerous restaurants can be found throughout the Market area if the fry bread and roasted corn stands don’t appeal to you. Door 38’s Detroit-style pizza in Burro Ally was zesty, chewy and delicious. For authentic New Mexican, visit the Plaza Café downtown right on the Plaza. During Market weekend, if you want to eat at long-time favorites The Shed, Cowgirl’s, or Tomasita’s, arrive when they open, just before closing, or expect wait times exceeding an hour.
The vast majority of visitors clear out on Sunday. I stayed over and left Monday morning. I was glad I did pushing off the Sunday afternoon blues of knowing my time in Santa Fe was coming to an end.
That’s unavoidable, I suppose, no matter when you leave. Fortunately for us, first-timers or long-timers, 101 will welcome us back in August of 2023.
Cara Romero (Chemehuevi), Archival pigment print, The Zenith, 43 x 48 (Best in class winner at SWAIA Indian Market 2022)| Photo by Chadd Scott