Vendors Leave Meeting With More Questions
If one American Indian artisan under the Palace of the Governors portal accepts MasterCard or Visa, is it fair to those who dont?
Like many of the issues facing the artists who sell under the portal on Santa Fes Plaza, theres not a simple answer. Trying to keep the rules understandable is an ongoing struggle for both the artists and the states 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.
We have a set of rules they want to change, said a vendor under the portal, who said he didnt want to be quoted by name for fear of being kicked out of the portal program. Theyre trying to incorporate us into the museum. Weve always been independent ... this is a Native program.
The portal program is governed by state statute, she said.
Several people dont realize there is a state statute, said Frances Levine, director of the Palace of the Governors, of a number of the portal artists. They think theyre governed by federal authority because theyre 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.
As 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 didnt 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 museums 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 Mondays meeting brought some new problems forward. A 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 generals 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. The last time they were examined was in 1995, she said. The 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.
The other thing we need are clear disciplinary procedures, so if someone is drinking, how do we go about documenting it? said Levine. The committee and the museum need clear disciplinary action spelled out. The current rules say repeated offenses would be grounds for dismissal, but doesnt say how many offenses.
In other areas, there are no simple answers, Levine said, especially in interpretations of whats considered traditional. The 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 doesnt 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. What it led to was some subtle and not-so-subtle intimidation, she said. This year, when it was voted on by written ballot, it passed. The use of credit cards was accepted in 2008.
Some people will say its not traditional, but neither are checks, said Levine. There 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 isnt traditional, but its 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.