Portal’s Policies

Vendors Leave Meeting With More Questions

Date January 27, 2009 at 11:00 PM

Categories Local News & Sports

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If one American Indian artisan under the Palace of the Governors portal accepts MasterCard or Visa, is it fair to those who don€™t?

Like many of the issues facing the artists who sell under the portal on Santa Fe€™s Plaza, there€™s not a simple answer. Trying to keep the rules understandable is an ongoing struggle for both the artists and the state€™s museum system.

A four-hour meeting held Monday morning was designed to clarify some of the issues, but at least in the case of some artists, only added more questions.

€œWe have a set of rules they want to change,€ said a vendor under the portal, who said he didn€™t want to be quoted by name for fear of being kicked out of the portal program. €œThey€™re trying to incorporate us into the museum. We€™ve always been independent ... this is a Native program.€

The portal program is governed by state statute, she said.

€œSeveral people don€™t realize there is a state statute,€ said Frances Levine, director of the Palace of the Governors, of a number of the portal artists. €œThey think they€™re governed by federal authority because they€™re tribal members.€

The portal program is an education program of the Palace of the Governors. As part of the required public hearings to review the program rules, a public hearing was held Jan. 8.

€œAs we sat listening to the comments, it was clear to me that they really were confused,€ said Levine. Much of the confusion arose, she said, because in the public hearing only testimony was taken and the state didn€™t respond.

After the hearing, according to Levine, Paul Coriz of Santo Domingo Pueblo €” one of the members of the portal committee (which represents the artists in the portal program who compete in regular lotteries for some 70 spots) €” suggested that there be meetings between the artists and the museum, and the museum€™s attorney, to answer questions.

Cheryl Arviso, a Navajo silversmith and portal committee member, offered to chair those meetings, Levine said. Another committee member suggested a flow chart be made to show how rules happen.

But Monday€™s meeting brought some new problems forward. €œA couple (of artists) thought we were there to impose a fee€ for participating in the program or to collect taxes, said Levine. The museum has no intentions of doing that, she said, even though an earlier state attorney general€™s opinion had advised the museum that a fee for participation was legally viable.

Levine said the museum has been reviewing the portal rules for the past four or five years, with state Department of Cultural Affairs attorneys and portal subcommittees. €œThe last time they were examined was in 1995,€ she said. €œThe rules have never been consolidated into a single set that is part of the statute.€

Regular updates to the rules are required as state agency programs and practices change.

In some cases, the current rules are vague. At the Monday meeting, one of the portal members said there were no standards for painting and carving, while there are very clear rules for what constitutes the making of heishi shell jewelry and the kinds of pottery that can be sold under the portal.

€œThe other thing we need are clear disciplinary procedures, so if someone is drinking, how do we go about documenting it?€ said Levine. €œThe committee and the museum need clear disciplinary action spelled out.€ The current rules say repeated offenses would be grounds for dismissal, but doesn€™t say how many offenses.

In other areas, there are no simple answers, Levine said, especially in interpretations of what€™s considered traditional. €œThe credit cards (matter) is right to the heart of the issue,€ she said, because credit cards allow some portal customers to buy items they might not be able to buy with cash or check.

A $300 necklace that can be purchased by credit card puts one artist in a more attractive position than another artist who doesn€™t accept credit cards, Levine explained.

The credit card issue came up repeatedly over the last several years, and whenever allowing card purchases was voted upon by raised hands, it was voted down, Levine said. €œWhat it led to was some subtle and not-so-subtle intimidation,€ she said. €œThis year, when it was voted on by written ballot, it passed.€ The use of credit cards was accepted in 2008.

€œSome people will say it€™s not traditional, but neither are checks,€ said Levine. €œThere are a lot of ways in which tradition has changed over the years. ... It used to be artists sat on their blankets. Now they sit on chairs. Some people say it isn€™t traditional, but it€™s certainly more comfortable for the artists.€

A final public hearing about the rules will be scheduled within the next 60 days. Then the proposed revisions, and a report on comments presented at the hearing, will go to the Museum Board of Regents and to Cultural Affairs Secretary Stuart Ashman for consideration on whether to adopt the proposed rule revisions.

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