Creating During a Planetary Pandemic
By Staci Golar
Janie Reano (Kewa Pueblo) represents the fourth generation of her family to participate in the annual Santa Fe Indian Market. She follows in the footsteps of her mother Rose Reano, grandmother Clara Lovato Reano, and great-grandmother Monica Silva Lovato. Janie’s mother has participated in the Indian Market for more than 50 years and Janie is going on more than 30 years as an Indian Market artist, herself. Both create jewelry using time-honored materials and techniques such as intricate heishi (small hand-carved beads, usually made from shell or stone) and mosaic inlay.
Janie’s Indian Market perspective is one that only a handful of people in the world have. Not only does she know what it’s like to prep for the Market as an artist, but after 20 months on the job as the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts’ (SWAIA’s) Artist Services Assistant, she also knows what it’s like to prep for Indian Market as an event organizer behind the scenes.
Due to the global pandemic, SWAIA rapidly switched gears this year to offer artists and collectors a virtual Indian Market event. Janie’s job morphed from assisting with the typical seasonal applications and on the ground event assistance to building websites, writing biographies for artists who were building websites, advising on art photography, and more.
FAAM caught Janie in between the hundreds of artist emails and phone calls she was receiving and checked in.
Did you ever envision this is how one of your Indian Markets would be?
No, never. It’s sad that it had to be postponed, especially so close to its centennial. Indian Market has had a huge impact on my life professionally, artistically, and personally. My mother and I look forward to seeing old friends, collectors, and meeting new people each year.
I noticed that you and your family created a website through the SWAIA/Artspan partnership. Have you made a lot of sales using this outlet?
Thankfully, I have made a few sales. Social media has been extremely helpful in those sales. I’ve had a couple of inquiries off my SWAIA landing page, as well.
Have customers been mostly from out of town?
Only one sale was local. The rest were out-of-state sales.
Have you experienced anything unexpected with the process?
A few things but nothing that was a roadblock. The biggest challenge was forwarding my domain to my new Artspan site. Artspan’s help desk provided instructions, so I was able to use a domain that I’ve owned for the last three years.
Has this move to a Virtual Indian Market inspired you to do more online as an artist?
I’ve tried to build a website for the last three years but never launched it. The web host I was using was complicated, and I was never satisfied with my site. Artspan was simple for me, and I built my website in less than two hours. I’m planning on adding an “in the studio” page in the future. I’m also planning on updating my social media platforms more often. I wasn’t updating frequently before Virtual Indian Market.
Has working for the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts changed the way you look at Indian Market? If so, in what ways?
Yes, it has. I took for granted the work involved in putting on the event. I only saw how it affected me not understanding SWAIA policy and procedures. For example, one year I didn’t have my images ready for my annual application. I waited until deadline day, and it was too late to retake photos. I mistakenly identified a shell. That combined with poor images affected my scores. We were moved from our location of 40-plus years. My mother was disappointed at the move, but it was my fault for a poor application. Seeing the jury process opened my eyes. It truly is a blind process. Images and descriptions are the only things jurors “see.” Jurors don’t know my family legacy, years in Indian Market, or any accomplishments we have achieved.
The other change is that I used to think there was a large staff referred to as “the SWAIA.” I thought “the SWAIA” didn’t care about artists. Boy, was I wrong. There is a mighty staff of seven that put on the annual Indian Market and now the Virtual Market. I’ve been in the trenches with them, and each staff member is passionate about helping our artists. Of course, we couldn’t put on the event without our loyal army of volunteers. We always welcome any help especially the week and weekend of Indian Market in August and Winter Market in December.
I know that the regular Indian Market takes an enormous amount of work to pull off. Are you all working around the clock to do this month-long Virtual Indian Market?
Yes, everyone on staff is working long hours. Typically, I’m on a 32-hour week schedule. However, I’ve been putting in 50 to 60 hours since April. One of my coworkers stated today, “I haven’t had a day off since August 1st.”
There are days that start at 6:00 am with a call or text from an artist and end at 8:00 pm. I have to race home to beat curfew time [Many tribal communities in the US have implemented curfews as part of their way to mitigate the spread of COVID-19]. Then there are the longer days that end around 12:00 am. Those are the deadline days like the Virtual Award competition. I was helping artists right up midnight. I almost missed submitting my mom’s work.
What have been the most commonly asked questions from during this transition?
Website building, dealing with taxes, understanding what to charge for shipping and insurance, and creating a PayPal account are some of the most frequently asked questions. I’d love it if a tax professional would hold a tax seminar for our artists—a session geared toward filing as a Native business owner.
What are some of the best or maybe most heartwarming stories you’ve heard since the Virtual Indian Market began?
There are a few that stand out. We have an elder who has very little computer skills, and she’s built her own website. She and her husband struggled every step of the way but they persisted. I was so excited when she called me after her first sale. I’m so proud of her.
Another artist called me asking for help. I could hear the frustration in their voice. We fixed the issue, and they were so happy to learn new skills. They told me, “I don’t know you, but I love you!” Another artist called to let me know they were giving up. They didn’t want the frustration and hassle of building a website. I listened to them. Then, I told them the first thing they needed to do was find a quiet room to work on the website. They didn’t realize I could hear children in the background. I had to remind them they required focus and concentration. I’m happy that they didn’t give up, and they put together a very nice website.
How is everything going for your community during this time?
It’s devastating to hear the Native community struggling with all the closures (markets, galleries, etc.) This affects all Native communities not just mine in Santo Domingo/Kewa Pueblo. There are so many barriers for those that live on a reservation: lack of internet, technical skills, computers, photography skills, and logistics to mail artwork.
I learned the skill of selling my artwork as a young woman, from observing my mom and various family members. Now, I’m the one teaching my elders how to sell online.
Beyond purchasing work what else can the general public can do to support Native artists during this tough time?
Promote artists. If you like an artist’s work recommend them to your circle of friends, family, and contacts. Share their social media posts. Introduce Native art to those that haven’t been exposed. Volunteer for organizations that assist Native artists.