In the portal at Santa Fe the most offensive question I hear is a tourist asking a Native American artist, ‘Can I take your photo.’ With their sandals and socks, their $1500 lens and $1000 camera, their Indiana Jones hat and cargo shorts…they step back, dreaming of how the black and white photo of the poor Indian they are about to take. It’s kinda gross, kinda depressing.
In the Portal you have 19 tribes represented – they register to be able to get a space to sell at and then enter the lottery for a spot. The weekends are the most important time, it’s when the tourists come through. One of our artists, Ramona, who makes some of our jewelry – she’s been selling there since 1979. I asked her once, ‘Does it offend you when they ask that?’ She pragmatically laughed, ‘Well usually they only photograph the old men. And, as long as they pay me, I really don’t mind. What am I gonna do?’
When I first started this venture with a stranger who would become a friend, Jesus, we made an agreement – he would sell it to me for what he wanted to sell it to me for – we weren’t gonna haggle, we would come to agreement. His money goes into more raw materials, equipment, but also something intangible…his grand-daughters college fund. How was I going to ‘beat him up’ on price when I knew where the money was going? This is when I decided that while I would be a good business man, there had to be a recognition of where the money goes – when you buy directly from an artist, with no middle man – it goes straight into the community. Jesus’s grand daughter might be my doctor one day…that means something.
A lot of companies donate to a charitable cause because they don’t have a connection to actual artist – everything is run rate, made in a factory, mass production to create lower costs. Then, they mark it up, sell it to you, and then what? They want to give back to the community – but how? They pick a cause, donate, write it off on the corporate taxes. Some do it for good reason – some do it to virtue signal. Atleast it’s a donation.
For Explores, we are fortunate enough to do things a little different – we buy direct from the artist. When we purchase from them it is a charitable contribution in it’s own right. I know where it’s going, and now you do to – because you see the artists, you meet them, you know their story. We donate on a local, personal level through doing good business. We keep the money in our
community, and when we sell our goods we are bringing more money into our community. We want to be a company that people come to and ask to do business because they hear about how ethical we are. A lot of our art is the history, the ancestory of our artists…this is something very deep to me.
We also donate to Museum of New Mexico Foundation. The reason we do this is because even though we give to the community directly by paying fair prices direct to the artist – we also care for our state and culture. MNMF has a policy that they take donations and move it directly to where it is needed most. I see their work living here in NM, going to the Portal at Santa Fe or ABQ, or by going to a museum. For us, this donation is about service to the people, culture, and state here – ensuring it remains as it is and is protected from corporations who want to buy up land for mining or water rights, or stop the Federal government from moving in and taking land for management.
These are concepts that folks back east aren’t familiar with – when you educate a child here and they grow up and can make a living, they don’t need to sell their heritage to the highest bidder, and they can fight those who encroach on their land and livelihood.