Yes, I am starting with a fragment of a song from the musical Annie, but I think it is so appropriate in these times of stress and difficulty. Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun!
Some say I am the ultimate optimist. I see the silver lining in the cloud, and like to believe the glass is half-full, not half-empty. In fact, I often see the glass as almost full.
What does that have to do with Native American art? These past two months have been incredibly difficult, not only for the population as a whole, but for specific segments of our population who rely upon retail and wholesale activity to feed their families and pay their bills. In particular, I’ve seen incredible hardships among the Native American art community – artists and retail galleries – whose livelihoods have been shut down for an extended period of time. Indian markets have been cancelled, storefronts have been closed up, tourist trade has all but vanished, and the livelihoods of so many people have been put on hold. Many artists look to the SWAIA Indian Market in August, or to Eiteljorg, or to Native Treasures, or to Red Earth, or to so many other opportunities to make a living, and those have been cancelled for this year.
A fortunate few are able to carry on. They have the financial resources or the technological capabilities to push through this setback, though not without taking some bruises themselves. I am not particularly concerned about this segment. I am, however, very concerned about the artists and galleries that live hand-to-mouth, moving from show to show or from sale to sale to earn money for the next show or to pay the next bill. My heart breaks when I hear of a talented individual who is scrambling furiously just to put food on the table, or a gallery that won’t be reopening when the rest of the economy does. Though we may not directly be impacted by these situations, we are all impacted in some way.
The Hopi Nation is delivering food to its residents on the three mesas, making sure everyone has at least something to keep going. Other pueblos and tribes are pooling their resources as best they can to survive. The Zuni pueblo, for example, is helping some of their less-technologically advanced artists with the Zuni cooperative website so they can have at least some online sales. Fortunately, we are moving into the spring and home heating costs are slowly subsiding.
This is a frightening time for all of us. We are all too young to remember the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, and we don’t really recall the MERS, SARS, Legionnaires Disease, West Nile virus, H1N1, or any of the other more recent epidemics because they were much less virulent and much more readily contained. The pandemic we are experiencing is unprecedented in our times, and we aren’t prepared to deal with it.
But somehow, we are managing. Social distancing and social isolation have mitigated the impact of the virus transmission, and treatment drugs and vaccines are being developed quickly. We are adapting to a “new normal” with facemasks, more frequent hand-washing, and other preventative measures. And we are hearing more and more good news about heroic efforts from our health care professionals to handle our medical needs. Companies large and small are retooling to manufacture test kits, face masks, ventilators, and all the other necessities of dealing with this pandemic. Food pantries are stepping up their efforts, and schools are working hard to keep their students engaged with online learning. We are finding ways to deal with this. They may not be easy or what we are accustomed to, but we are finding ways to deal.
So, yes, the sun WILL come out tomorrow. We are strong, and we will survive. Of this, I am certain. We may come out of this with some emotional scars, but we humans are a resilient species. I pray that when the sun comes out, our Native American art community can return to some semblance of vitality, as it is such a critical component of our national culture. Art feeds the soul, and art has the power to lift our spirits to soar among the clouds. I pray for our world that we can emerge from this pandemic, and I pray for our Native American art community that their art can help us heal spiritually. Now, perhaps more than ever, we need to feel the stories in the art that give us succor and hope for the future.