Native and European Artists Go Virtual to Help Their In-person Communities

Updated: Jun 9, 2020

By Elise Vazquez

Guest blogger

With most of the world under a pandemic, artists must not only be creative with their own medium, but ways in which they reach potential buyers and community members. And they have done just that – not only locally but throughout the world.

The Native Artist Marketplace is a new Facebook group that brings together artists from tribes throughout the nation selling hand-crafted paintings, beadwork, jewelry, clothing, pottery, carvings and other works. The Marketplace, which was launched April 25, now has 5,000 members and was the brainchild of Laticia McNaughton Pattison, a Six Nations Mohawk Wolf Clan, who was raised in the Tuscarora Nation and lives in Buffalo, NY.

“It’s a great way for artists and communities to support each other,” she said. “I think the Market group has been a good experience for many of the artists who’ve joined. It has brought together several different Haudenosaunee communities as we have artists from many different nations. And the group members have been so supportive of the artists and their work.”

With the COVID-19 rate running rampant in many Native communities, and so many living below the poverty level, Laticia said this was the best way to help artists earn a living, while also bringing many nations together under one roof. Artists can assist one another with Facebook photographs and postings, and the public can then purchase art online and have it shipped to their homes.

The arts are important to local economies in Native American communities. About 30 percent of Native peoples are practicing or potential artists, accoding to The First Peoples Fund Market Study

“I had seen that a lot of summer events in the Native community were canceled due to the need for distancing because of the virus. Powwows, festivals, art markets and socials,” she continued. “So I decided to start a Facebook group event where artists can sign up and sell their artwork like a virtual vending table and people could join and shop. I expected a small gathering of artists, but it quickly grew as the registration period went on. Before I knew it, we had 80 artists signed up for vendor tables. Then I extended it to allow 100 artists. Eventually, the membership kept growing as well. It has been incredible to see it develop.” There are now more than 5,000 members from artists to potential buyers, across the United States.

One of many artists featured in the Spring Market is Veronica Benally, of the Navajo Towering House Clan in Arizona, who has been creating jewelry with her husband Ernest for 20 years. Her work is featured in museums in Indiana, New Mexico and California. The Navajo Nation, which is the country’s largest Native American reservation, has a higher per capita death rate from COVID-19 death rate than any state in the country.

“The market is like having an extended family,” said Veronica. “I think with all different artists from different nations, that in itself creates a community. We share stories, ideas and frustrations.” Veronica and her husband also have been selected to participate in the largest Native American art fair in the country, the juried Santa Fe Indian Market (SWAIA), traditionally held in New Mexico in August, but for the first time in its 100-year history, is going virtual this year.

SWAIA is partnering with The Clark Hulings Fund for Visual Artists to create “an opportunity to expand our mission to serve artists and the art community in a broader way,” according to the SWAIA website.

But this isn’t occurring only in the United States. In Italy, hundreds of artists and jewelry designers throughout Europe donated their work to the Jewelry Auction Against COVID-19, an auction site, with 100 percent of the money contributed funneled to the Italian Red Cross and other health-based nonprofits.

“This is a fantastic tool to link authors, the public and their works together. It creates a powerful net between all three levels: artists, clients and their work. There are many pictures of the work and it’s possible to comment and write each other and I found this really connecting.” said Clizia Ornato, a jewelry designer from Italy who has been quarantined in France since the outbreak. “I heard about it on Facebook and it was a pleasure for me to contribute my art for my country.”

With the success of this auction, a similar effort was launched by artists in Portugal and Spain, in which artists donated a piece, and buyers from around the world bid, with money going directly to Doctors Without Borders and other nonprofits to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in their communities. That was followed by the Art Jewelry Night in Budapest, in which auction winners donated to one of three foundations assisting children who contracted COVID-19, and Manos que Apoyan, (Supporting Hands), an initiative in Mexico that mirrors the ones in the Native nations and Europe.

“Hopefull we will realize that there are many things that are not OK in how were living and we will be able to grow from that,” said Girogirgia June Tasca, a jewelry designer from Vincenza, Italy, who has participated in these efforts. Added Laticia, “It’s been a great connector for everyone, for sure.”

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Artist: Ary Mondragon

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