Event features demonstrations, chance to interact with artists


FARMINGTON — Ranger Cyresa Bloom, the organizer of the annual American Indian Cultural Arts Festival at Aztec Ruins National Monument, has learned a lot about how to plan and manage such an event since the first one took place in 2016.

Her main takeaway from that experience? Don't plan a big outdoor event for April, when the weather in San Juan County can be uncooperative, she said, laughing and explaining that the inaugural festival unfolded in cold, rainy conditions.

Even so, she said, approximately 300 people showed up to take part, and that demonstrated to her that there was an appetite among local residents for events that offered them a chance to interact with Native artists, crafts people and performers and see their work. Now in its fourth year, the festival will return from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 13 to Aztec Ruins, 725 Ruins Road.

This year's festival has attracted the largest group of artists yet — a total of 21, Bloom said, which represents a 25 percent increase over last year's group.

"This has been the greatest response from outlying pueblos," she said. "Many of them are coming from a great distance."

The group includes Hopi and Jicarilla Apache artists, as well as artists from the Zuni, Santa Clara, Jemez and Acoma pueblos, Bloom said.

"So it's going to be a pretty diverse group," she said, explaining that while plenty of traditional work will be displayed, there also will artists who work in contemporary styles.

Artists will be selling their work, which includes basketry, pottery, jewelry and drums. But Bloom emphasized that the festival does not feature a traditional marketplace atmosphere.

"It's grounds for education and demonstrations, and, hopefully, you'll see a lot of that this weekend," she said. "That's part of the park's mission."

Nathan Hatfield, the chief of interpretation at the park, echoed that sentiment.

"This is a unique opportunity for visitors to see the artists in action, demonstrating their craft as well as selling their finished pieces," he said in an emailed statement.

The event offers more than visual artists. The Zuni Pueblo's Kallestewa Dance Group and the Jemez Pueblo's Oak Canyon Dancers will be featured in morning and afternoon performances, and Bloom said she was hoping to receive commitments from Native flute musicians, as well.

The festival's growth is largely a function of the partnerships Aztec Ruins has been able to establish with businesses and other groups, Bloom said, including Capacity Builders Inc., a Farmington organization that serves the resource development needs of tribal nonprofits in the Four Corners area. She credited Native artist Michael Billie for his recruiting efforts on behalf of the festival for the past few years and hopes to see that growth continue.

In fact, Bloom said she plans on writing a proposal when this year's festival is over that explores the possibility of expanding it into a series of once-a-month events over three months next summer. Each event would be smaller than this year's festival, but that approach potentially would expose more Aztec Ruins visitors to Native art and culture, she said, and the possibility of the festival being spoiled by a single day of bad weather would be reduced.

"I hope everybody will come," Bloom said. "This is a chance to learn from the heart and see what these people have to offer."

Admission to the festival is free. Call 505-334-6174 for more information.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610.

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