The COVID pandemic presented a challenge to the Feria Maestros del Arte board of directors that resulted in a new resilience and initiative within our ranks. Cancelling the Ferias in 2020 and 2021 was heart-wrenching. How would we continue to keep to our mission to preserve and promote Mexican folk art without our large yearly event?
Artisans all over Mexico were experiencing incredible financial difficulties while everyone was dealing with waves of constant change and uncertainty. Most folk artists rely on in-person contact with buyers, stores, events, etc. When COVID halted this type of interaction, artisans were left floundering for other avenues to sell their work.
As the pandemic spread, and the Feria faced the harsh reality that our event must be cancelled, we began switching our efforts to social media and Zoom meetings to keep in contact with one another. Strategizing ways to organize socially distanced fundraising was our new challenge.
Our first virtual fundraising effort was to modify our website focus from informational to sales. Artisans who approached the Feria for assistance were asked to send photos of current work available for sale, which was then added to the website where buyers could peruse the site at their leisure, then contact the Feria via text or email noting what item(s) they wished to purchase. The shipping charges were calculated and the Feria collected the total amount due from the client. As the Feria familiarized itself with the shipping process, amber jewelry was sold domestically and shipped to Aguascalientes, while the many piñas (pineapple pots) sold internationally, required us to procure and send shipping papers to the artist. We were on a roll!
Once payment had been made, 100% of the sale was deposited in the artisan’s bank account. This continued all through 2020. In 2021, we saw an opportunity to capitalize on our new sales and shipping knowledge by using Facebook. Online Facebook bazaars posted photos, and sales were made in the same manner as on the website. The response was incredibly uplifting. Over the course of the pandemic, the Feria was able to deposit more than two million pesos in artisans’ bank accounts. Virtual fundraising and communication via text, email, or Zoom became our new reality.
The website sales were so successful, the Feria decided to build a new website with a storefront. The site was released in August 2022 without the store. With a Feria to plan, there just wasn’t enough time to open the store, too. Each 2022 artist has their own webpage with a short biography and photos of their work. In time, every artisan who has exhibited at the Feria will have their own webpage with their contact information, giving each of them an online presence.
Next, we decided to attempt a hybrid event and organized a “Mini Holiday” Feria in December of 2020. A selected number of artisans shipped their holiday-related work to us to be sold on the grounds of The Lake Chapala Society. The public was invited to attend, observing full COVID precautions. Volunteers sold for the artists and, again, 100% of the monies raised went into their bank accounts.
Two more hybrid events took place: one in April 2021 for Mother’s Day, and the final mini Feria took place November 2021 to which local artisans were invited to “mask up” and sell their work themselves. The three mini Ferias raised over $950,000 pesos.
Many artisans living in remote locations were hit harder financially than others due to the distance they would normally travel to make in-person contact sales. During COVID, with little or no income, they could not bear the cost of taking the bus to town to sell. When the Feria learned of an artist who was struggling and in dire need, we dipped into what would have been our 2020 start-up funds in order to help. In total, the Feria assisted over 150 artists during the pandemic. That translates to 1,300 people benefiting from their sales.
With COVID restrictions putting the brakes on large gatherings, including the Feria, we are anxious to resume our regular in-person Feria, and many supporters are eager to be celebrating with us again. In March of 2022, the board of directors decided to go forward with plans for the 2022 Feria, which is also our 20th anniversary.
Beginning with just six artists 20 years ago, 2022 will host 93 artisans from all corners of Mexico, all of whom will descend on Club de Yates de Chapala November 10 to set up their booths where they will exhibit and sell during the three days of Feria Maestros del Arte, November 11-13.
The mission of the Feria is to create public awareness of the plight of Mexican folk art, rapidly disappearing because artists cannot sustain a livelihood on their art alone. In Mexico, more and more artists are abandoning their work to take menial jobs where they are assured of a guaranteed income.
Feria Maestros del Arte is a legal Mexican and U.S. non-profit organization manned by expats and Mexicans who have come together to do their small part in keeping Mexico’s folk art alive. The artists are hand selected and pay nothing to attend the Feria, no booth fee, no percentage of sales. Their transportation is paid by the Feria. Also, they are housed by Lakeside residents for the three days they are in Chapala. This means they can sell their work at the best prices possible and, hopefully, find new contacts such as gallery owners or collectors to purchase their art on a continual basis. All artists invited to the show must be Mexican and many are considered to exemplify standards of excellence set in their art medium for generations.
So, what does the future hold for Mexican folk art? Only time will tell. But does it not seem likely that potters will abandon gathering their own clay from the earth, pulverizing and processing it by hand, when commercial clays are available? That artists who use the traditional stiff brushes chewed from the midrib of a yucca leaf or made from the hair of children will begin to use commercially made brushes to paint their beautiful designs? That rather than take the many hours needed to gather and process wool, spin it, dye it, and then weave it on handmade looms, weavers may go to automated equipment and store-bought yarns? These are just some of the challenges and decisions facing struggling folk artisans today.
If you have never been to a Feria, this year’s is one you don’t want to miss. It is said that the job of the artist is to awaken the eye, to offer you something you cannot make yourself, something that moves and stirs your imagination and love for beauty. This is so aptly achieved by the “maestros” you will encounter at the Feria.
For more information, contact Marianne Carlson at 331 098 4850 WhatsApp or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com