Linda Dipert had intended to visit the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market for years, but it was not until 2015 that she finally made the summer trip after setting her alarm clock for midnight, the moment that tickets went on sale in May. She was determined not to miss out on getting a ticket for the first day of the show. Reportedly the most well-known art festival of its kind in the world, the Santa Fe event is now in its 14th year and attracts 20,000 visitors annually. It was voted the “Best Art Festival in America” by USA Today.
“My first visit to the Santa Fe market was all about the shopping,” said Dipert who herself is a folk artist who creates hooked rugs. “With a lot of ground to cover to see all 160 artists, I didn’t even take time to enjoy the foods served at the early bird event. Because this is folk art, everything they sell is one-off — there’s no duplication — you either get the piece you admired or it will be gone. So you want to be among the first shoppers to get the things you really want.” Even the following year, she said it was still primarily a shopping trip for her to acquire unusual handmade pieces.
It was not until she read a letter from International Folk Art Alliance (IFAA) chairman Jeff Snell that Dipert realized the larger social meaning of the Santa Fe show. Snell pointed out that the market was bigger than the art itself because of its dramatic economic impact on the home communities of the artists. The IFAA’s mentoring program offers business-development training to the artists so they can grow their business and be a catalyst for social change in their villages and towns. After discovering this, Dipert’s dream of bringing the IFAA market to Arlington was born.
“The IFAA is about the human spirit, perseverance, empowerment, and vision,” Snell wrote. “We have been nurturing the creative spirit of artists from around the world and presenting them at the International Folk Art Market/Santa Fee annually where they derive substantial income for their home communities.”
Dipert said she loved the fact that artists who typically had been earning around $3 a day in their home country get on average $20,000 from art they sell at the U.S. market — and what they take home provides as much as five years of income and may sustain an entire community.
They use the money back home to purchase land and hire other artists to create more handmade works to share globally. Some have built health clinics, water wells, bridges, schools or bought farm animals to improve the economies of their communities. “And before returning home many of them will add to our local economy by purchasing what they cannot get at home including computers, tv's, furnishings, and more,” Dipert added.
The $13 million impact that the market has on the local Santa Fe economy also piqued even more interest from Dipert. So she decided to explore the idea with Snell of expanding the market to another city. He was interested because the geographic limitations of the Santa Fe venue limit any future opportunity for adding more artists.
Snell and others from the IFAA board came to visit Arlington, liked what they saw and described Arlington as having a can-do spirit. Three IFAA board members are from Dallas, and all were enthusiastic about the market coming to Arlington, the Dream City. The decision was made to launch the first ever expansion of the International Folk Art Market in Arlington on June 16-17 at UT Arlington’s College Park area.
Dipert enlisted the involvement of several Arlington citizens including Tony Pompa, Aaron Reich, Mary Gilman, and Sylvia Nichols to form a steering committee to work on marketing and financing the effort. Mayor Jeff Williams was named honorary chairman and ten sub-committees were formed. About a third of the funding for the market will be provided by IFAA with the remaining expenses covered by sponsors, ticket sales and a grant from the Arlington Cultural and Tourism Council.
“I am extremely excited to be working with International Folk Art Alliance to bring world class artists to Arlington,” Williams wrote in a news release. “Combining our central location with being the leader in tourism in the DFW Metroplex, Arlington is looking forward to hosting a multitude of visitors to the International Folk Art Market.”
A VIP event will kick the market off on Friday, June 16 at the Green at College Park offering a preview of the market with the first opportunity to shop. A “Night in Old Havana” is the theme and the experience will include street musicians, salsa dancing, paella, Cuban sandwiches, Mojitos, and Cuba Libres. Public shopping at the market will occur all day Saturday, June 17.
Internationally inspired food and entertainment will be available along with the meticulously curated artwork of 35 artists selling their unique handmade artwork, jewelry, textiles, and home goods from such countries as Italy, Ghana, Uzbekistan, Nigeria, Ukraine, South Sudan, Myanmar, Peru and many others.
According to Snell, the artisan sector is right behind agriculture in creating global economies. “IFAA is thrilled to find in Arlington, Texas the right partners—the Arlington Visitors and Convention Bureau, the University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington Cultural Tourism Council, civic leaders, and stellar community leaders in Linda Dipert and Tony Pompa—to help create more opportunities for artisan-entrepreneurs from around the world,” Snell wrote.
Confusion about what folk art really is concerns the event organizers who worry about the misconceptions of this type of artistry. “Folk art is generally primitive, it is utilitarian, it’s one-off and it’s beautiful,” Dipert said. “And people will so enjoy seeing the artists wear their native costumes throughout the market – the whole thing is so beautiful.”
Many of the artists, Dipert said, have never been outside their villages before they come to the U. S. market and have no idea of the monetary value of their time or artwork. The IFAA teaches them how to price their work and how the distribution chain works. They arrange for their visas and teach them about basic business tools such as business cards.
Each artist has their own story, like Gulnora Odilova from Uzbekistan and the elaborate textile works she creates into ornate embroidered designs on hats, boots, purses and apparel. Gulnora’s ancestors are believed to have created the intricate technique of Shakhrisabz embroidery back in the 17th century.
Or there’s Didi and Bishnu Shrestha from Nepal who work with a team of women at a felting table to create scarves and purses by fusing felt with fabric. Using their traditional felting skills, they create one-of-a-kind artistic pieces.
“I think our city is the perfect spot for the market because Arlington is the second most diverse city in Texas with the fifth most diverse school district and university,” Dipert said. “Diversity champions innovation, and this sets us apart from the rest of the DFW area. I love that we have all this.”
As for the future of the Arlington Folk Art Market, Dipert envisions the event transitioning from a private grassroots effort to a city-owned event managed perhaps by the Arlington Convention & Visitors Bureau. “I’m willing to continue heading up the project until the time is right to hand it off,” Dipert said.
If you go
A Night in Old Havana VIP Shopping Event, 6 to 9 p.m.
Tickets: $150 each and include all day entrance to Saturday Market
Early Bird Shopping 8 to 10 a.m.; tickets $25
General Admission from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; tickets $10
Evening Market from 6 to 8 p.m.; free admission
Children age 16 and under enter free all day Saturday.