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published: April, 2002
Session: World Cultures, World Strategies
Along the south side of the Palace of The Governors in Santa Fe, New Mexico, sit Native American artists and craftspeople who sell their handmade goods to tourists and local Santa Feans almost every day of the year, rain or shine. The over 900 vendors represent forty-one tribes, pueblos, chapters and villages in New Mexico, the Navajo Nation, and some parts of Arizona. Each morning the Vendors Committee conducts a lottery to see who will occupy the eighty spaces available under the portal that day.
The Vendors Committee creates and enforces rules for those who sell their work under the portal. The rules emphasize authenticity (a maker's mark is required on all goods), traditional materials (sterling silver is permitted; silver plate and commercial liquid silver is not), and handmade work made as generations of Indian artisans have made it. Because of space limitations, the distances that many of the vendors must drive to participate in the lottery for a space under the portal, and the vagaries of clientele and weather, the Portal Program has sought alternate venues to sell their goods.
The Portal Program's coordinator has raised the vendor's interest in the Internet as a viable "location" that could expand their market as well as accomplish other significant goals. These goals include education and member training. The vendors want the world to know what defines authentic Indian art. They also want non-Native people to have greater understanding about the diverse cultures and art traditions represented in the Portal Program. Finally, the artist-vendors recognize that they need training in the use of electronic media in order to expand their income potential. It is appropriate, if ironic, that contemporary technology can work so effectively to preserve traditional American art forms and cultures by serving a population that is underserved, rural, and unique.