This past year has become a year of change; COVID-19 has changed the way we do everything in our life.  For artists, the pandemic has shifted how we sell our art. One would think that creating online Native American Arts Markets would be the answer to our prayers.

Corn husk doll dressed in black hat with colorful band, denim belted top, and long red skirt, standing on a sunny lawn.
Corn husk doll by Dawn Spears; photo by Dawn Spears

Once I realized in-person markets were not possible, I immediately wondered about creating a virtual market.  As a market organizer myself, I wasn’t the only one with that idea. Soon after initially canceling, the Abbe Museum Indian Market announced their plans for a Digital Market. This was the first Zoom facilitated market for me, and I jumped on board; I was game for this new way of connecting. The participating artists invited attendees to their homes where they could talk about and display their work. This market is available online if you missed it!  As a previous producer of the in-person version of this market, I found it wonderful to participate, even with the technical difficulties that are now a part of our daily lives. It was fun, and I was eager to do it again. I made use of this “market” space for an interview on Rise and Thrive with Tailinh Agoyo shortly thereafter.

Pandemic restrictions also provided an opportunity to engage with social media as a market space (check out my Facebook page). I also participated in a regionally focused spring market, which was excellently organized and facilitated; I hope to join their fall market soon.

Display of artwork in a studio; colorful, graphic designs on canvas as well as a dress form, purse, and sneakers.
Dawn Spear's art displayed in the studio. Photo by Dawn Spears.

This August, I participated in SWAIA’s Virtual Indian Market. This was a month-long market with each artist’s website linked on SWAIA’s event space.  What an endeavor! This market included a fashion component, including weekly video fashion jaunts, delving into each participating designer’s world, as well as entertainment, all in a virtual reality. As an artist, I appreciated the visibility that the SWAIA website afforded to all of the artists, even well before the actual market; I was listed on the SWAIA site for 2020 prior to being listed on the Abbe Museum’s event in May. Additionally, each artist was given the opportunity to create a website, with technical assistance available if needed. This gave me the nudge I needed to finally set up my own website .

My takeaway on this season of virtual markets is that it is definitely a more affordable approach for both the buyer and seller, primarily since no travel is required. I wonder if virtual markets can provide the same opportunity for the artist and the buyer; I have heard mixed reviews, from both artists and collectors. 

I imagine if you are a well-known artist in the market arena, your chances of sales are better than a relatively unknown or emerging artist. It’s a larger space and requires preparation and a dash of stage direction. You need to push yourself, promote yourself, and showcase, or present teasers, to help entice your potential buyers. This is not for everyone. For now, I’m hopeful, and have found the virtual environment to be open for possibilities and opportunities.

Upcoming Virtual Native Arts Markets