Photography: Samantha Jacobs © Gabriella Marks Photo

If you love Native American art and culture, the place to be August 18 – 19 is Santa Fe. We talk with Ira Wilson, the new executive director of the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts.

Cowboys & Indians: There’s so much going on both during Indian Market weekend and the week leading up to it. What are your favorite and not-to-be-missed events?
Ira Wilson, Executive Director, SWAIA: Aside from the amazing Native art, there are so many great events going on during Indian Market that it’s hard to choose. We have fabulous cinema, traditional dancing, bands, a live auction and just a great mix of things to do. I’d have to say the Best of Show Luncheon and the Haute Couture fashion show have the most buzz about them. I’m just super excited to be in the middle of it all.

C&I: For folks who’ve never been, what part of town is Indian Market held in, and what are some nearby things you’d suggest people check out?
Wilson: It’s always historically been held in the plaza area. If anyone needs directions, it’s easiest to just ask a local. Museum Hill and Canyon Road are awesome alternatives to Indian Market if one should want to take a break.

Photography: Angie Yazzie © / Pat Pruitt ©

C&I: If you’re coming to shop, what are you going to find?
Wilson: Anything from pottery, jewelry, storytellers, carved katsinas, sculpture, diverse arts, textiles and weavings, baskets, paintings, and just so much more. The history of SWAIA is a long one as well as artists over the years developing new ways to express themselves and create new and exciting art.

C&I: What are some of the most authentic things about the market for someone hoping to discover Native American culture?
Wilson: The artwork itself and buying directly from the artist. Here is where culture, heritage, and tradition live. Purchasing a piece from artists is a great way to connect with their Native culture. Many times friendships are started over a discussion of the symbolism of the piece that last a lifetime. Artists get really excited to talk about their creations and share about their culture.

Photography: Market Performers ©Gabriella Marks Photo

C&I: What are some insider tips for really immersing yourself in the experience of Indian Market?
Wilson: You have to get up really early to see the best of the best before these pieces find new homes with collectors. It’s the excitement of Indian Market. Talk to the artists when you get a chance. It’s a great way to become part of the event. See it all! There are so many amazing things happening during Indian Market — try to make as many of them as you can.

C&I: What are some of your personal favorite memories of Indian Market?
Wilson: Of the many years I've attended Indian Market the best memories are kicking it with my artist friends and seeing our visitors and collectors in awe of their pieces. Having been to many Indian Markets it’s pretty cool watching the younger artists come into their own. The camaraderie and excitement of the event are some great memories as well.

Photography: Courtesy Ric Charlie

C&I: This is your first market as SWAIA’s executive director. What have you learned so far? What are the organization’s greatest assets?
Wilson: I’ve learned SWAIA is a very loved organization. We have tremendous supporters and volunteers that make it happen year after year. My greatest assets are my staff. They are a small but mighty crew of creative individuals. It’s amazing to see what they do with what we have. I really do admire their moxie and passion for Native art and artists. I’m lucky to have them.

C&I: This is the oldest most prestigious Indian art market. What needs to happen to ensure SWAIA’s future?
Wilson: More financial and community support is crucial to our survival. We struggle a bit but we as an organization always seem to pull through. I’d like to step back and find new ways to stabilize SWAIA and garner new interest from entities that will love what we do.

Photography: Hand-crafted unique cowboy hats with a Native American influence. / Courtesy Melissa Lewis-Barnes

C&I: What are your hopes for the market? Its expansion?
Wilson: There are so many avenues I’d love to explore — cuisine and digital art are just some initial ideas. I’d like to find some cool indigenous music out there as well. Finding a balance between the contemporary arts and the traditional is key to SWAIA’s growth and expansion. I feel once that is achieved nothing can stop Indian Market from achieving new and exciting heights.

Photography: Wesley Willey and Carla Hemlock—photos ©

For more about Santa Fe Indian Market, visit

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