By Michelle J. Lanteri
During this year’s Santa Fe Indian Market (SFIM), Native artists propelled their artworks into the digital sphere. Two- and three-dimensional media transformed into digital photographs for two purposes—to represent artworks for sale on the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA) website and to interact with audiences within NDN World, an online meeting place available to all SWAIA members. The Santa Fe Community Convention Center turned virtual within NDN World, where SWAIA artists, members, partners, and sponsors gathered for this year’s live events taking place between August 1 and 31, like the Virtual Awards Preview and Ceremony. SWAIA members can also visit NDN World outside of scheduled events. To access NDN World, members must first complete their SWAIA registration online and then download and install the Vircadia software. To log into NDN World, members use the same password they set for the SWAIA website, coupled with their username, which is auto-generated by the SWAIA website and listed in their member profile.
As a Vircadia 3D virtual reality platform, NDN World stretches the SWAIA community into new dimensions. From their personal computers, SWAIA members and artists travel to this digital realm to nurture relationships overlapping time and space by being in physical and virtual environments at once. While no replacement for the annual SFIM in downtown Santa Fe, NDN World opens up more spaces to share stories and experiences during the spectacular August rendezvous. It facilitates another layer of gathering places for the SWAIA artists and the SFIM participants around the globe to directly connect—a cornerstone of the in-person market.
During the present era of meeting online, NDN World offers a living room of sorts to participants. Instead of eye contact and screen-to-screen dialogue, participants move through a shared, virtual space and speak with each other via their selected avatar character and computer’s onboard microphone. In NDN World, the focus shifts from eye contact to embodied gathering and includes a trio of perspectives. First person, to look out from your avatar. Second person, to see your avatar in “selfie” mode. Third person, to look from behind your avatar, who is seen in this view. In addition to the SWAIA artists, staff, and NDN World developing team, Native designers also contributed their artistic talents. Neebinnaukzhik Southall (Chippewas of Rama First Nation) created the rabbit avatars within the group of characters that participants choose from to represent themselves.
In NDN World, SWAIA members can stroll at their own pace and look at artworks submitted for SWAIA award categories that have been organized by classifications. To learn more about an artwork, just click on its label, and you’ll see the information about it and its maker on your screen. Whether you’re looking at artworks with friends or alone, or if you’re attending the Awards Ceremony, you can enhance what you’re experiencing in NDN World by choosing an emote action to portray a response in real time. You can cry, act surprised, dance, cheer, wave, point, clap, or express love. You can even sit down in a chair or fall over while standing up, if it seems like the thing to do! To add to your reaction, comment right in the moment into your computer’s onboard microphone, and you’ll be heard, as long as your microphone button is set to the on position. But if you’re watching the spoken or video presentations on the convention center’s stage while in NDN World, be aware that your voice carries according to proximity, just like when you’re attending an event at a physical space. You can also peruse the artworks donated by Native artists to the SWAIA Benefit Auction that are on view near the stage.
Want to catch up with someone you randomly ran into in NDN World? Sit by a fireplace or in the bar area. Or just hang out in one of the gallery hallways! These nooks demonstrate that a virtual convention center can create space for the unplanned moments that make SFIM week so special.
NDN World offers a new experience to many of us, but it will also build on established experiences for people familiar with virtual environments. It becomes more defined as a place as conversations emerge from within its doorways, forging pathways between the physical and virtual realms. NDN World, as a new meeting place for the SFIM community, rises to the occasion of our current era and pushes us to create an expansive, digital dialogue centered on Native American art.