Native Showcase a new addition to this year's event

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FARMINGTON — For 30 years, the Totah Festival has helped usher in the changing of the seasons in Farmington, marking the end of summer and the coming of fall as much as the start of the high school football season.

Over that time, one particular element of the gathering has demonstrated an enduring popularity — the event poster. A new one is created each year to promote the festival after a winning design is chosen from a slew of entries by local artists.

Bart Wilsey, director of the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park, which stages the festival, understands very well how important the poster is to the event's success. He knows that because, for a couple of years, in 2015 and 2016, he saw the public's reaction when it was discontinued.

"People really made it known they wanted the poster," he said, smiling ruefully. "They were very, very vocal about that. Which is good. It made us bring it back. We're doing a poster and a T-shirt this year."

The unveiling of this year's poster and T-shirt, and the announcement of the winners of the festival's juried art competition, will kick off the festival at 4 p.m. Aug. 30 at the museum, 3041 E. Main St. in Farmington, before the rest of the festival activities take place across town to the Farmington Civic Center, 200 W. Arrington St., over the rest of the holiday weekend.

The Totah Festival is known across the region for its Indian Market, where quality work by dozens of Native artists is sold. But Wilsey said it's hard to top the posters when it comes to demand, noting that festival organizers have discovered there is a sizable market even for posters from years past.

"We bring all the back (editions) for sale, and they have done spectacularly well," he said. "We sell them for $30 apiece, and we sold $1,700 worth last year."

This year's festival also will feature a new component, the Totah Showcase taking place at 6 p.m. Aug. 30. It features a night of comedy by James Junes and Pax Harvey, and dancing by the Diamond Creek Apache Crown Dancers at the Civic Center. Tickets are $20.

"I think we wanted to have a night of both contemporary and traditional (performances), and that was a good way to do it," Wilsey said.

Whether the showcase becomes a part of the festival each year depends on how it is received by the public, he said

"We're always looking for things to add to the festival to make it different and appealing," he said.

The festival itself runs from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Aug. 31 and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 1 at the Civic Center. As always, it features a juried art show, a Navajo rug auction at 1 p.m. Aug. 31, a contest pow wow, a fashion show featuring Jolonzo Goldtooth's JG Indie line at 1 p.m. Sept. 1, and a cultural expo from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 1 featuring performances by the PoPay Pueblo Dancers, the Soaring Eagle Dancers, the Acoma Buffalo Dancers, and Joe Tohonnie and the White Mountain Apache Dancers.

The festival's offerings are rounded out by the Totah River Run Series, which features 5k and 10 runs at 8 a.m. Sept. 1 at Berg Park.

Wilsey said the rug auction attracts a little more than 200 submissions each year, down from its heyday of several years ago, when nearly 400 weavings could be expected. That is an unfortunate sign of the decreasing number of Navajo weavers, he said.

"A lot of the weavers are just getting older and passing on, and some are giving it up for day jobs," he said. "It's harder to find people who weave."

That doesn't mean the popularity of the work itself is declining. Wilsey noted that the prices at the Farmington Museum Foundation's annual Navajo Rug Auction each April have been climbing in recent years, and he said the weaving classes the museum offers are always full.

The festival is returning to the Civic Center this year after a one-year absence when the facility was undergoing an extensive renovation. Wilsey said the event experienced a bit of an attendance bump last year when it was held at the museum, with approximately 10,000 people attending its events over the three-day period, and he hopes to see as many as 14,000 visitors at this year's festival as it returns to its longtime home.

"It's a time for everybody to learn about the rich Native cultures we have in the area — not just Navajo, but Apache, Ute, Zuni, Hopi — and the art reflects that," he said.

Call 505-599-1174 or visit totahfestival.org for more information.

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

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