Santa Fe International Folk Art Market 

Maria Infante Dominican Republic coop of 25 women recycled plastic bags into purses and totes at the New Mexico Folk Art Market in Santa Fe.
Maria Infante Dominican Republic coop of 25 women recycled plastic bags into purses and totes.

See the World at this world-famous folk art market in New Mexico

By Jeanne Block

African drummer at last year's Santa Fe International Folk Art Market.
African drummer at last year’s Santa Fe International Folk Art Market.

“Es usted de Teotitlán del Valle?” I asked the man who was busy laying out a display of woven rugs and wall hangings in rich shades of red, gold, blue, and green.

“Si, si,” he replied with a smile.

I told him that I had visited his weaving shop in the small village of Teotitlán del Valle near Oaxaca, Mexico in February. It was early Sunday morning, the second weekend of July, 2007, and I was starting my first shift as a volunteer cashier at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market in New Mexico.

Now, many years later, I am getting ready again – along with 1600 other volunteers – to staff world’s largest juried folk art market.

Talking drums from Nigeria.
Talking drums from Nigeria.

Founded as a way to support and celebrate folk art from around the world, the Market has since expanded its mission to train folk artists on everything from design to business and marketing development and to provide year-round sales opportunities for many artists, supporting their families and communities and continuing to honor and sustain traditional art.

Named “Best U.S. Art Festival” by USA Today in 2015, the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market takes place the second weekend in July every year.

Since its founding in 2004, artists have come from 92 different countries, ranging from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. The Market features over 200 artists from 60 different countries – including many representing local craft cooperatives and many first-time artists.

Carnival Like Parade of Artists

Basket from Omba Arts Namibia.
Basket from Omba Arts Namibia.

Each year, Santa Fe welcomes visitors and artists on the Thursday evening preceding Market weekend with the Artist’s Procession.

This carnival-like parade of artists dressed in traditional costumes in every color of the rainbow.

The party continues with two hours of music and dancing. This year’s community celebration will be take place on the historic Santa Fe Plaza with featured musician Mamadou Kelly from Mali. This is a free event open to the public.

Located on Museum Hill in an outdoor venue with spectacular views of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the Market has something for everyone.

LadyPeace and Hazel from South Africa.
LadyPeace and Hazel from South Africa.

You can find baskets from South Africa and Rwanda, textiles from Madagascar, Peru and India, metalwork from Haiti, musical instruments from Uzbekistan and Nigeria, glasswork from the Palestinian territories, ceramics from Turkey and Mexico, and so much more – all handmade.

The artists use traditional materials, methods and designs or rework tradition with new materials, such as colorful telephone wire baskets from South Africa or PVC bracelets from Namibia.

Opening Night Gala

The Market opens on Friday night with a limited-ticket gala celebration featuring music, refreshments, and shopping under the stars.

Bright and early Saturday morning, shoppers line up before the 7:30 am opening of the Early Bird Market, hoping to visit both new and returning artists’ booths before the crowds arrive. Regular hours are 9 am-5 pm both Saturday and Sunday.

Madagascar textiles
Madagascar textiles.

Sunday is Family Day at the Market, which highlights the Children’s Passport Project. Children receive a passport when entering the Market and are encouraged to visit with artists to learn about their countries and crafts.

The passports are then “stamped” with stickers of flags from the countries they visited. It is a fabulous way to engage children in learning about other countries and cultures and both the artists and children love it!

Market attendees can also enjoy gastronomic delights at the International Food Bazaar, live international music and dance, and craft demonstrations throughout the day, as well as free entry to the Museum of International Folk Art and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, both located on Museum Hill and cultural gems in their own right.

Meeting New Artists

Every July I look forward to meeting new artists and seeing old friends and being surrounded once again by a dazzling array of colors, costumes, music and languages from around the world.

Sisal baskets from Rwanda.
Sisal baskets from Rwanda.

In 2012, knowing I was planning a trip to Namibia in the fall, I volunteered to work at the booth of the Omba Arts craft cooperative based in Windhoek, Namibia. I met some wonderful people and learned about their work. Three months later I walked into their shop in Windhoek and was welcomed by people I had met half a world away. Every year since, their booth is one of the first I visit at the Market.

But as much as I love folk art and the excitement of the Market, the reason I volunteer every year is the impact the Market has on the artists, their families and communities after the Market ends.

Because the Market is almost entirely staffed by volunteers, artists take home 90% of the money made at the Market, with the average booth earning almost $20,000.

Telephone wire baskets from South Africa.
Telephone wire baskets from South Africa.

For many participants from developing countries, this is more money than they earn in a typical year, and earnings have been used to build wells, send village children to school, expand women’s cooperatives, and enhance the well-being of entire communities. It is an honor to play a small part in such a life-changing event for so many people…and have fun at the same time!

Tips for Visiting Santa Fe and the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market

Make reservations and buy tickets early! Almost 20,000 people visit the Market, many of them from out of state. Hotels are usually full and tickets may sell out early. For information on where to stay and eat, visit the Santa Fe tourism website. For details on Market tickets, events, transportation and artist profiles, visit the Market website.

July in Santa Fe is hot, and at 7,000 feet altitude, it can literally take your breath away. Take your time, wear sunscreen, visit the Market in the morning when it is cooler, and drink lots of water.

Narrative story textiles South Africa.
Narrative story textiles South Africa.

Consider cooling off in one of Santa Fe’s three independent movie theaters which present indie and international films every day. The Screen at Santa Fe University of Art and Design celebrated its 20th year in 2017.

Center for the Contemporary Arts Cinematheque is part of a larger arts organization that includes a visual arts gallery and public art happenings.

The newest addition to the indie movie scene – actually a remake of an earlier arts’ house theater – is the Jean Cocteau Cinema, owned by George R. R. Martin, author of A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series which spawned the popular television series Game of Thrones. Jean Cocteau also stages special events including author’s readings and current events discussions.

Plan to stay a few extra days to explore all that Santa Fe has to offer. As the oldest capital city in the United States, Santa Fe is rich in history and culture. Visit the Palace of the Governors, the oldest continuously occupied public building in the nation.

Stroll along Canyon Road, once a narrow dirt trail along the Santa Fe River, now a thriving art community with over 100 galleries, studios, and restaurants, many housed in historic adobe buildings. Enjoy a margarita at sunset – and a magnificent view of Santa Fe – at the Bell Tower bar atop the historic La Fonda on the Plaza hotel. And have fun trying to answer the state question – red or green (we’re talking chile here) – at one of Santa Fe’s many fine restaurants.

All this fun starts at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. So come to Santa Fe and see the world – hope to see you at the Market!

Travel Information and Resources for Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe International Folk Art Market

The Official Travel Site – Santa Fe, NM

Museum of International Folk Art

Museum of Indian Arts and Culture

The Screen

Center for Contemporary Arts

Jean Cocteau Cinema

Jeanne Block in Namibia.
Jeanne Block in Namibia.

Jeanne Block is a nurse/health educator and solo traveler who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her solo journeys have taken her around the United States and to Mexico, Europe, Africa, and Micronesia. She looks forward to her 10th year of volunteering at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market in July 2016.

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