The future is handmade: Santa Fe's International Folk Art Market

This weekend's festival aims to be engine of economic change


The arty enclave of Santa Fe, New Mexico, will host the 14th International Folk Art Market from tomorrow (14 July). The annual weekend-long festival, which draws some 20,000 visitors to browse hand-dyed and woven textiles, jewellery, basketry, carvings, ceramics, glass, sculpture, paintings and toys from all over the world, is the most diverse event of its kind.

The 160 vendors are selected by jury and represent 53 countries; new this year are comers from Argentina, Jordan, Tajikistan and Tanzania.

A 2015 painting by the Cuban folk artist Carlos Caceres Valladeres (Courtesy of the artist)

Also for the first time this year, the festival is presenting a special exhibition, Innovation Inspiration, to showcase works that apply ancient materials or techniques to produce thoroughly contemporary pieces—such as Zenzulu’s patterned baskets woven from recycled telephone wire in South Africa, or avant-garde takes on indigenous Mexican garments by Carla Fernández and Cecilia Gomez Diaz.

Organisers posit the event not only as a cultural bridge but as an engine of economic change; to date, it has helped 800 artists bring a total of $25m back to their home countries. The creative director of the festival, Keith Recker, says: “For both consumers and artists, the most positive path to the future is handmade.”

The market is a passion project for Recker, who in 2009 founded the magazine Hand/Eye to combat what he sees as an artificial distinction between “fine” and “folk” art—categories he says “are classist and colonialist.” In making their selections for the market, he explains, the jury looks at many of the same criteria that curators of contemporary art or design do: how makers are harnessing their materials and using cultural assets and intellectual property. “We ask, ‘How does that combine into an object that is worth having, talking about, passing on?’” If the art world at large adopted those standards, he adds, “our definitions would change even more quickly than they already are. I really think we’d find ourselves having a different discussion about art.”

• International Folk Art Market, Museum Hill, Santa Fe, 14-16 July