NEFA staff Daniela Jacobson and Morganna Becker also contributed to this blog.

The Northeast Indigenous Art Alliance (NIAA) and NEFA teamed up to bring another great workshop to Native American artists in the region in October. The focus: Markets and Marketing Yourself. The setting: the beautiful Crandall “minacommuck” Farm in Westerly, RI. The host: Dawn Spears (Narragansett/Choctaw), visual artist, Narragansett Tribal Food Sovereignty Initiative farmer, and COO of NIAA.

The entrance to the Crandall “minacommuck” Farm in Westerly, Rhode Island has a dirt road leading to the main property. A sign that reads “Narragansett Tribal Farm” is attached to a board between two tall wooden posts in the foreground. In the background, a small building is seen on the left side of the dirt road. Blue sky, clouds, and sunshine spill across the property.
The entrance to the Crandall “minacommuck” Farm in Westerly, Rhode Island, by Morganna Becker/NEFA

Dawn has been diving into the idea of a Native American artist market in the Northeast for a few years and helped produce the inaugural 2018 Abbe Museum Indian Market. What she has found is that there are many artists that feel they are not ready or they are overwhelmed at the idea of participating at that perceived higher level of effort in participating in an arts market. This workshop addressed a few of these challenges and provided a space for artists to ask questions from other practicing artists that have shown work at art markets.

On October 13th, Native American artists from Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island gathered inside one of the farm’s gardening high tunnels to learn and discuss best practices for marketing their artwork.

Artist Nia Holly (Nipmuc), Gail Rokotuibau (Narragansett/Pequot), Dawn Spears (Narragansett/Choctaw), and Samantha Fry (Narragansett) stand together and smile facing the camera inside a high tunnel at the Markets & Marketing workshop
Artist Nia Holly (Nipmuc), Gail Rokotuibau (Narragansett/Pequot), Dawn Spears (Narragansett/Choctaw), and Samantha Fry (Narragansett), by Morganna Becker/NEFA

Morganna Becker (Program Associate, CreativeGround at NEFA) began the day with an overview CreativeGround: a free, online, searchable directory for all New England cultural organizations, such as libraries and museums; creative businesses, such as recording studios and galleries; and artists of all disciplines, such as dance companies and visual and craft artisans. Most important to this workshop, CreativeGround hosts the Native American Artist directory. Profiles with the Native American Artist designation are for artists whose credentials have been approved according to the U.S. Department of the Interior Indian Arts & Crafts Act. Under the Act, an Indian is defined as a member of any federally or officially State recognized Indian Tribe, or an individual certified as an Indian artisan by an Indian Tribe.

The CreativeGround platform gives an accessible way for artists to present an online, professional portfolio and to be visible as a member of an important part of New England’s creative economy. All members of New England’s creative sector are invited to create and maintain a free profile and Native American artists can request designation when editing their profile. Technical assistance is never far away, as the CreativeGround team (Morganna and others!) can assist users by email ( and phone (617.951.0010x535).

Cassius Spears, founder of the Narragansett Food Sovereignty Initiative and caretaker of the Crandall “minacommuck” Farm, smiles facing the camera while holding a basket full of  freshly picked carrots, tomatoes, green beans, and peppers in a high tunnel at the Markets & Marketing workshop. A lunch buffet table is behind Cassius and workshop participants are seated in the background.
Cassius Spears, founder of the Narragansett Food Sovereignty Initiative and caretaker of the Crandall “minacommuck” Farm, by Morganna Becker/NEFA

After sharing a delicious lunch with farm grown vegetables, Dawn reviewed some basic tips that would assist an artist interested in taking the plunge and led a panel discussion featuring artists Margaret Jacobs (Mohawk), Berta Welch (Aquinnah Wampanoag), and Endawnis Spears (Diné/Ojibwe/Choctaw/Chicksaw), who shared some insights on participating in local and national art markets. Discussion was light and engaging, artists exchanged insight, tips, and challenges. 

The panelists were very helpful, each brought a unique perspective to the topic of “markets”. The panelists were asked to answer questions and participants were then able to ask questions. This format provided for more in-depth dialogue with each panelist. Some interesting takeaways from the day included developing a forum or group for artists to share resources on the Northeast Indigenous Arts Alliance Facebook page.

Endawnis Spears (Diné/Ojibwe/Choctaw/Chicksaw), Gail Rokotuibau (Narragansett/Pequot), Samantha Fry (Narragansett), and Morganna Becker connect and chat together at the Markets & Marketing workshop for Native American artists inside the high tunnel. Endawnis’ jewelry is displayed on a table in the foreground.
Endawnis Spears (Diné/Ojibwe/Choctaw/Chicksaw), Gail Rokotuibau (Narragansett/Pequot), Samantha Fry (Narragansett), and Morganna Becker, by Daniela Jacobson/NEFA

Other interesting topics that arose in the discussion were about the larger markets: How as artists do we strive to gain admittance to these larger and popular markets. Why? What are we expecting and is it worth the expense? One artist shared that they have found it to be more beneficial to attend and participate in smaller markets. You bypass pricey booth fees and get a much better experience. Which leads to the question, when does a market decide that it is too large? Are you truly providing an economically beneficial opportunity for artists if the artist paid an exorbitant fee and then is situated in an isolated location with very little traffic?

Knowing your niche is key. As an artist, pace yourself, and maybe staying within your region is more beneficial. Other topics discussed was pricing your art, using a brochure to tell your story as a marketing tool, and using consistent branding as an artist.

Save the date: Upcoming 2nd annual Abbe Museum Indian Market on May 17-19, 2019 in Bar Harbor, Maine

Hot on the heels of the Abbe's wildly successful inaugural Indian Market, the museum has begun laying the foundation for next year's event in May 2019! If you have any questions about the market, email Dawn Spears.

Narragansett Tribal Food Sovereignty Initiative

Dawn and Cassius Spears share more about the story behind the Narragansett Food Sovereignty Initiative in this Providence Journal article by Kevin Andrade.