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Inside Eiteljorg Indian Market and Festival: How artists are selected

by Jaq Nigg, Eiteljorg festival and events manager | May 27, 2013
Indian Market includes an evening opening party and two full days of performances, food, cultural activities and, of course, art sales. We always point out that artists must be Native American and selected into the show, but what exactly does that mean?


Artist: Darance Chimerica (Hopi)

Being “Indian”
Artists have to show a tribal enrollment card or an authorized letter from their tribe to prove they’re Indian. There’s a law. The Arts and Crafts Act of 1990, enforced by the U.S. Department of the Interior, was introduced to protect Indian artists from non-Indians trying to capitalize on their cultures by making it illegal to offer for sale any product that falsely suggests it is Indian produced. Legally, “Indian” is defined as “a member of any federally or state recognized tribe or an individual certified as an Indian artisan by a recognized tribe.” There are uncomfortable gray areas involving historical tribes that are no longer legally recognized. An example close to home is the Miami Indians of Indiana. Simply put, organizations like the Eiteljorg have to follow the law.


Artist: Judy Tafoya (Santa Clara Pueblo)

The fun part: artist selection
Each February, a crack team gathers to review a couple thousand slides representing all of the artists hoping to be selected to Market. The team is made up of Eiteljorg curators, a jury of experts in Native art and the Eiteljorg festivals team (you know, to order coffee and bring snacks). Artwork is judged for craftsmanship and originality. The selectors must assign a score from one to five, without the option of a three. Over the years, I’ve learned so much just listening. Toward the end of the day discussions can get silly, but most offer master-class-level commentary on art, history and cultures. I am lucky to be a fly on that wall.


Artist: Dallin Maybee (Northern Arapaho/Seneca)

Math is Hard
Once the selectors have done their work, I tabulate the scores for each division. We get more submissions in some categories than in others so we use a curve. For example, a higher percentage of jewelry artists apply so they must receive higher scores to be accepted. It’s a very selective process and many great artists don’t make the cut. We encourage those artists to try again.


Artist: Ernest Benally (Navajo/Diné)

What comes next?
We work all year on Market, but once the artist letters go out, the countdown really begins. They keep us on our toes with questions and suggestions. They want the market to be successful and prosperous for themselves and for us. We do everything that we can to make sure they are taken care of. I always say one of my favorite parts of the market is that, although the artists are our guests, the Eiteljorg and the artists come together to host our visitors.

Don’t miss your chance to meet this year’s selected artists on June 22-23 in Military Park! For more details, visit the festivals and events section of our website.  


Artist: Marty Gradolf (Winnebago of Nebraska)

See you there!
Jaq Nigg
Eiteljorg festival and events manager



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