Nearly two weeks in, SWAIA’s Virtual Market is already pointing to an exciting new future
By Michael Clawson
On April 15, still early in the pandemic and four months away from Santa Fe Indian Market, Kim Peone (Colville/Eastern Cherokee) was named SWAIA’s executive director. The phrase “baptism by fire” was invented for just these occasions.
“Less so for me, but it was definitely a baptism by fire for my staff and the board,” Peone recalls of those early days. “Almost immediately after walking in we were all supporting this massive pivot for the future of the market. We were questioning what it could mean for us, and trying to find a vision through it all.”
Just two weeks prior to Peone joining SWAIA, the organization had announced Indian Market was postponed in light of the rising health risks. So Peone had her hands full immediately. But by early May, a path forward came to light: an in-person market would transition into Virtual Market. And SWAIA and its new leader raced to make it happen.
Now two weeks into the first, and hopefully only, Virtual Market, Peone and her team are excited about the future.
“It’s definitely been very good for us as far as execution. We’ve had some minor IT issues, but we got on them quickly. The best part is hearing about the artist experiences and their sales,” Peone says, adding that SWAIA does not take a commission from the artists, so there is no way to track sales directly. “The feedback we’re getting is consistently good. We were very pleased when we heard several artists sold out on the first day. And since day one, we’ve been really focusing on making the buying experience even better and just streamlining some of the process.
One of the most noticeable positive effects of the virtual component, Peone says, is getting artists online, some for the first time in their long careers. “They are becoming the CEOs of their websites and their business. We’re giving them the tools to launch websites, and then providing them with the marketing to create traffic,” she says. “We have 450 artists participating in Virtual Market, and only 100 of them already had websites. The remaining ones we brought online, and now they are connecting with old and new buyers. It is very beneficial to them and their businesses. And there are benefits to SWAIA too: other artists are seeing what is being done and want to participate. We had a soft close on artist deadlines, so we’re still bringing artists online.”
Amanda Crocker, SWAIA’s PR and marketing director, has worked with many of the artists as they have brought their work online. “The artists run the gamut from very technologically savvy to never really having engaged online. It’s been amazing to see how hard they worked to bring themselves up to speed and create e-commerce websites,” Crocker says, adding that more than 28,000 visitors have browsed through Virtual Market which is powered by Artspan. “I think they appreciate this opportunity, and are learning a ton that will help support their businesses year-round.”
By creating this new system, SWAIA has not only made Virtual Market possible, but has added an important new feature to the future of Santa Fe Indian Market, for both the 99th show in 2021 and the centennial in 2022. Peone calls it a “perpetual tool” that will be a driving component to SWAIA’s online presence moving forward.
Another component that will help strengthen SWAIA during this pandemic period is the $25 discounted memberships. Anyone can shop on the Virtual Market website and all the artworks are available, but some of the marquee events are behind the simple $25 membership, which includes preview of the award submissions, the virtual awards ceremony on August 15, the virtual fashion show on August 16, a silent auction and a finale concert with Snotty Nose Rez Kids on August 29. Additionally, there is NDN World, a virtual interactive zone that Peone likens to the video game Fortnite (without combat), where users can choose avatars and browse through a virtual world.
“We restructured our entire membership matrix, as well as for sponsorships,” Peone says. “We wanted to increase participation, and the result would be more people would be a partner moving forward. It also allowed us to let more people stay informed with what was happening. And at $25 we hope to bring in new people, even younger people, to experience all of the things that come with membership, including these marquee events.”
So far, all of this adding up and contributing to SWAIA’s sustained relevance within the art market, Santa Fe and the Southwest as a whole. All parties involved want in-person markets to return, and quickly, but until it’s safe this model has shown great promise for the artists, the collectors and for SWAIA.
“Our tags for this year’s market were, ‘Remember, Relive and Re-Imagine.’ We really used those as guidance for how we are pursuing this,” Peone says. “We remember our genesis, and how market has evolved since 1922. We relive by going back through the archives to share those experiences. We re-imagine by asking people to look at Santa Fe Indian Market, and see that beloved event in a new way. Our attempt to change the experience with this virtual platform, it’s really brought us all together, the artists and the collectors. It’s brought the community together.”