Sunday, December 27, 2015

Truth in Marketing

I may have mentioned before that about a dozen years ago I went to a symposium on the Market for Native American Art at the British Museum in London.  To my surprise one of the speakers was a Japanese gentleman by the name of Ito Atsunori, who was still a student then and is today an assistant professor at the National Museum of Ethnology in Japan.  He had been working on his thesis on Hopi Indian Jewelry and the fakes that were being made in his country.  He had developed a catalog of objects that were by Native artists and fakes.  Unfortunately, that jewelry which is also faked in many other parts of the world, finds its way into this country and much of it to the Southwest and Santa Fe.

It has gotten to the point that a good deal of the imitations of Indian art is sold in  galleries owned and run by non Natives right on Santa Fe’s Historic Plaza.  While there are a number that are excellent legitimate galleries there are also some that sell knock offs of the real thing.  The Mayor of Santa Fe, Javier Gonzalez, has come to the conclusion that the town could use a Truth in Marketing Law to protect our many Native American Artists who make their living from their art.  The occasion of the Mayor’s announcement, billed as a press conference, was thought important enough to be covered by the print media and also television.  The print  press just walked in with notebooks and cameras: video and sound equipment was another matter.

The Mayor made his announcement at the Art Gallery Sorrel Sky owned by Shanan Campbell Wells, daughter of former U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell from 1993-2005 who is also a very well known Cheyenne jeweler.  The Mayor was introduced by Ms. Wells and she outlined the announcement, “The Act is a Truth in marketing law to protect Indian Artists and their creative work, and to protect Indian art collectors, consumers – and visitors to our great city.”  Senator Campbell was the first American Indian to chair the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and he sent along a brief statement.  In it he stated that though there have been laws since 1934 against false representation of Native American Art, they have had lax enforcement and he commended the Mayor on seeking this action.  Other speakers were The Cultural Affairs Secretary, Veronica Gonzales and the Director of the Indian Arts Research Center at the School for Advanced Research and Arts Commission member, Brian Vallo from Acoma Pueblo.  He pointed out that due to the increase in tourists, marketability and interest in Native American art, the marketing of counterfeit wares has increased geometrically.   Needless to say, the latter are less expensive and therefore more tempting to the tourist.  The stores that sell these have every right to do so as long as they are properly labeled.

Sharon Campbell Wells & Brian Vallo
Mayor Gonzalez & Department of Cultural Affairs Secretary, Veronica Gonzales

The Mayor’s office was kind enough to forward the Mayor’s entire press conference including the question period. It lasts under 40 minutes and can be found HERE.

According to a 225 page report by the University of New Mexico Bureau of Business and Economic Research close to 10% of the total employment in the State is in the cultural  economy which adds 5.6 billion dollars in revenue annually.    A great percentage of this is cultural tourism so it is in the State’s interest to protect the arts in any way they can.  One of the great resources of the State is its Indian population and the unique artistic heritage that Native Americans impart.

This legislation is not yet reality but the Mayor plans to submit to the City Council a bill proposing a cultural district around downtown Santa Fe within which all Native art must be sold with certain information including name and affiliation of the artist, if known, with the tribe or pueblo identified.  The type and source of the materials would also have to be disclosed.  Tourists who come to Santa Fe are not necessarily expert in the field and do not know, for instance, that there are many types of turquoise and that what can also look like turquoise may be made from synthetic materials.

In his remarks the Mayor said, “It is both our duty – and it is in our interest and in the interest of the artists themselves – to do what we can to help protect these traditions and ensure that artists can continue to build a livelihood from their craft.”  He pointed out that the City does not have the right to prosecute violators, that is up to the Feds, but it can withdraw business licenses.  The Mayor concluded, “As far as we know we are breaking new ground.  This is the first piece of legislation like it in the country, especially at the municipal level, and we will be relying on all of our partners here and in the Native, gallery, museum, retail stores and cultural institution communities to help us perfect it and insure that the specific requirements we put in place are meaningful.”

I am particularly pleased with this initiative not only because I think it is good for the community but if you can trust the trader that you are buying from you can gain so much from her or him and learn to trust your own eye to a greater extent.

Wishing all my readers a most happy and healthy 2016!

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