“Uncharted” is a new interview series created in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re talking to people in the New Mexico arts world and beyond to see how the community is navigating this unprecedented health crisis. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Keith Grosbeck and Leland Chapin work in marketing at the Poeh Cultural Center in Pojoaque, NM. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Poeh swiftly organized a Facebook group called the Native Artist Marketplace, where Native artists are invited to sell their work. At the time of publication, the group has over 1,500 members. As part of their efforts, the Poeh has offered their team’s knowledge and experience to help artists in their community make the transition to selling their artwork online. I spoke with Keith and Leland about the Native Artist Marketplace, and how the Poeh is supporting their community.
Daisy Geoffrey: How has the Poeh Cultural Center responded to the pandemic?
Leland Chapin: It suddenly turned from marketing the exhibition Di Wae Powa, telling people to come to visit and see our beautiful exhibition, to a public health campaign—stay home, stay safe, wear a mask, wash your hands. I think Karl Duncan (Poeh Center Executive Director), handled it really well. He was really concerned with public education and even mental health posts, making sure people are handling being locked down well, and letting people know that we are here. The Poeh is more than a museum, it’s a family. And it has a lot of extensions that are far-reaching, such as involvement with the farmers market and the agricultural community. We do a lot of things, filling in where needed. There’s a meal delivery program, Meals on Wheels, which is organized through the Pueblo, but Karl asked the Poeh staff to supplement, so we’ve been helping with deliveries.
Keith Grosbeck: Even though the Poeh Cultural Center is its own entity, we do a lot of work with the Pueblo of Pojoaque. A lot of the marketing and programming centers around the Pueblo—we do a lot with the Wellness Center, Buffalo Thunder Casino and Resort, and the bison farm the Pueblo has developed. The Poeh Center is also an internationally-based museum and gift shop, and our programming works with artists in the area. So we do have a lot of range in what we support and what we promote. We have a pretty big artists community, and I think the Native Artist Marketplace stemmed from people already aware of what we were doing with the artist community in this area.
What inspired you to start the Native Artist Marketplace?
Grosbeck: We wanted to have something that was direct financial support for artists, and Facebook’s Marketplace platform was the best fit. All of the proceeds go to the artists. It seems like there are a lot of indigenous artists internationally that are starting to utilize the group.
Have you had any success stories?
Grosbeck: They’re definitely getting exposure. A lot of artists haven’t had a Facebook account or technology at their disposal previously, so there are a lot of resource guides that we’re creating as well, that teach artists how to market themselves. We have programming we’ve created that gives tutorials on how to manage their work. I’ve read success stories of other artists, like a 94-year-old lady whose granddaughter put her beadwork on the internet, and there was a news article written about her. There are a lot of different avenues for people who have incredible work but haven’t had an outlet for it, so the Marketplace we’ve provided helps. It’s getting people past the technological curve.
There are so many technical skills people need to have to be successful in getting their work online, can you share what you’re doing to fill that gap?
Grosbeck: We do have our contact available for people who need to get their work photographed or videos that need to be edited. There are staff members getting calls from people to get advice. Our lines are open, so we’re getting tons of requests for help, and we’re formulating content that will assist them in that. If it gets down to them calling us, or doing screen shares, we’re open to it. A lot of it has been hands-on. There are a lot of people who don’t have the resources we have, so we’re trying to help out as much as we can.
Chapin: When we announced the support we were offering, people were expecting it to cost something. We’re trying to spread the message that the Poeh is here, we’re sharing these resources, and we’re looking for videos and content from people.
What are the plans for the Poeh’s annual Summer Market?
Grosbeck: We’ve postponed it at the moment. Our objective is to possibly do it online. We’re following and observing other groups that have been doing large scale events.
Chapin: We have a group that is a Santa Fe based marketing company, Underexposed Studios, and they are working on a draft for us for a proposal to help build a website for the Summer Market. We want to take the Facebook Marketplace energy and move it towards a more polished website that we would develop to be like an Etsy storefront with virtual studios for each artist. We’ve been talking about how to support SWAIA. We’re going to use our resources to help all the native markets. That’s in the development stage. But we would probably use the Poeh as a site where people could drop off their artwork and get it photographed to create some kind of virtual site. That would be something that we would invest in significantly now, and it would exist long term, past the pandemic.
It sounds like you are truly committed to your community.
Grosbeck: It makes more sense to help others. There’s so much great talent out there, you can’t help but be enamored with their work and their lifestyles and creativity. The work that we do is fun—I don’t see it as a job, I get to hang out with and help really cool people.
Chapin: I’ve worked as a curator and teacher for so long, I just love putting good work in front of people and seeing what happens. That’s what we want to define the Poeh—is to continue the tradition of people fighting through these tough times by supporting agriculture, family, and artwork, and all the moving parts that make up a vibrant culture. In a way, this feels like an old mission, but it feels under pressure right now. We see all this brilliant work, and then we see it photographed under duress, it’s not in its best light. And we have high standards for how we want things to look. Keith brings his aesthetic of branding and design and shows off the work and programs in the best light. As Keith said, it’s to help connect people to an audience and help those artists to connect to another family of artists while they’re stuck at home.
What is the mood in Pojoaque?
Grosbeck: Leland and I both live outside the Pueblo, and there’s a large group of our staff from that and neighboring Pueblos. They’ve been very inspiring to me because they’re living inside this environment that’s very strict, but they’re still in good spirits. We’re working together and constantly finding ways to do new things, even though we’re restrained in a lot of ways. New ideas are coming out that we never thought of, especially during a global pandemic. The ideas are flowing, it’s just a matter of executing, which is where Leland and I step in. How can we execute this in a way that will not only encourage others to take notice, but that will represent the community at large in a good way?
Chapin: I’ve been looking at the Poeh as an example, and seeing Karl Duncan, our director, as an example of steadiness during this time. Night and day he’s texting us saying we need sanitizer, masks, touchless doors, and thinking about all these levels of safety. He’s planning the reopening of the Poeh, and it gets pushed back, but he’s moving forward. He’s throwing us on the meal delivery, then saying go make that a video with the Wellness Center—it’s nonstop. I’ve been impressed with everyone’s attitude. No matter what, you have to get up every day and do the work. You don’t know what’s gonna be out there. It’s been inspiring how steady the leadership has been.