Like the other girls in her family, all taught by their mother, Ly Ta May of northwestern Vietnam knows how to embroider intricate patterns onto dyed cloth. Thanks to her skill and perseverance—flourishing even as she raises a family and labors on her farm—she’ll appear this year at the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe for the first time, selling meticulously decorated textiles such as tunics and ceremonial scarves.
In the 10 years since its 2004 inception, Santa Fe’s International Folk Art Market (IFAM) has grown from a modest bazaar with a reported 18 exhibitors into an acclaimed destination festival showcasing the work of potters, knitters, basket weavers, jewelers, toymakers, glass blowers and other artists from 60 countries. The self-described “results-oriented entrepreneurial 501(c)(3) organization” behind the market expects upwards of 25,000 visitors to grace Museum Hill this year. Artists have taken home 90 percent of the $16 million in sales the market has earned in the past nine years, according to organizers, benefiting individuals, families and communities all around the globe.
Such tangible success is no doubt why many of the artists become repeat exhibitors. Last year when she traveled to Santa Fe to represent the weaving cooperative known as Federation Sahalandy, Rado Herivonona Ambinintsoa left the central highlands of Madagascar for the very first time. The story of the newfound prosperity of the 80-woman Sahalandy cooperative she represents, earned at the IFAM from traditionally spun and dyed silk that’s woven to create lamba landy cloth, is featured in a new 30-minute documentary by filmmaker David Evans. The Silkies of Madagascar follows the positive transformation of the women and their island community.
The Silkies’ story is a microcosm, says Evans, of how “financial literacy coupled with opportunity for women in these countries is going to change the world.”
Without a doubt, women are success stories for the IFAM. Not only do they comprise 54 percent of the artists, but many of them, like Ambinintsoa, represent entire cooperatives’ worth of additional women. Many artists face gender bias and a lack of education in their home countries, curtailing their chances for advancement. But IFAM excels at providing crucial training that allows artists to build on their successes and earn a livelihood outside of the market.
Significantly, such training is spearheaded by women. Prominent volunteer organizers and mentors of the Mentor to Market program include Catherine A. Allen, Dr. Jana M. Hawley, Betty Hudson and Karen Gibbs—all of them movers and shakers backed by impressive professional credits like The Santa Fe Group and National Geographic. In addition, IFAM is itself woman-led by Executive Director Shawn McQueen-Ruggeiro, and its board of directors is positively awash in female luminaries. IFAM, it would seem, ought to be as much of an example to organizations in the U.S. as it is to artists and collectives around the world.
All the fun, mayhem and beauty of the tenth annual International Folk Art Market unfurls this weekend. Though Friday’s opening night party is already sold out, tickets remain for Saturday and Sunday, and kids 16 and under get in free. Be sure you check the Market’s website, folkartmarket.org, for detailed pricing info and a rundown of the best ways to get to the market.