SWAIA head stepping down after turbulent 3-year tenure

Maybee intends to move to Phoenix to be with his family, return to practicing law

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Dallin Maybee, chief operating officer of the nonprofit Southwestern Association for Indian Arts, which presents the annual Santa Fe Indian Market, is resigning after more than three years at the post.

Maybee, 43, an artist and lawyer of Seneca and Northern Arapaho heritage, said he will not seek to renew his contract after it expires Dec. 31.

A SWAIA board member before being named interim operations executive in May 2014, Maybee said he wants to live full time with his wife and young daughters, who live in Phoenix, and return to practicing law.

"I feel like we've made a lot of positive changes which will lay a more stable foundation for years to come," Maybee said.

Maybee took over the nonprofit at a turbulent time and leaves after a contentious period in which changes to the application process and elimination of a longstanding tenure policy rankled some longtime participants and former leaders of the storied 96-year-old art market. Each August, the market draws hundreds of Native American artisans and an estimated 100,000 visitors to downtown Santa Fe for the city's busiest tourism weekend.

"A promise made, a promise broken -- where have we heard that before? COO Dallin Maybee says tenure was never applied fairly -- oh, baloney!" wrote John Gonzales, a former SWAIA board chairman, in The New Mexican in late July.

"Tenured artists should not be insulted by asking to prove they belong in Indian Market," wrote Paul Rainbird, a former SWAIA executive.

The decision to abolish tenure, which had allowed many senior artists and some younger prize winners to bypass the qualifying jury process, touched off a debate about whether the market was seeking new blood at the expense of accomplished masters of Southwestern Native art, some of whom relied on Indian Market sales and had been attending the prestigious summertime Plaza event for decades.

And a newly digitized application process caused difficulties for some senior artists who either lacked computers or online savvy.

San Ildefonso potter Barbara "Tahn-moo-whe" Gonzales, great-granddaughter of legendary potter Maria Martinez, said the changes seemed to target many traditional Southwestern artists.

"The preservation and the continuity of traditional Indian arts of New Mexico is at the basic core of this organization," Gonzales wrote in The New Mexican after being placed on a waiting list to participate in the market. "Where is the respect of New Mexico Indian arts and its promotional, beneficial features for SWAIA?"

Maybee touted fundraising and donation hauls during his time at the helm and said the changes in direction had solidified the future of the lucrative and historic event. Past SWAIA leadership had punted on dealing with the tenure program because they feared backlash and lawsuits, Maybee said.

New market policies value "fundamental fairness above all," he said.

"Work needs to be juried on the strength of the work and not on the name of the legacy of the family," he said. "If we're going to respect our artists and our elders, we need to respect all of them, not 30 percent but every single one. I'm proud every single artist who applies to Indian Market now has a fair shot."

Elizabeth Kirk, who chairs the SWAIA board, said Maybee is leaving the market "in a really good place."

"There are changes, but there are changes every year," said Kirk, a jeweler from Isleta Pueblo. "We just adapt."

Maybee took over SWAIA from John Torres Nez, who resigned in 2014 to begin a competing market, Indigenous Fine Art Market, with other SWAIA defectors. Not long after, Torres Nez was charged with embezzling money from a fundraiser intended to benefit Japanese tsunami victims; in April he struck a deal with prosecutors to pay more than $36,000 in restitution.

Dominique Toya, a potter from Jemez Pueblo who serves as vice chair of the SWAIA board, said Maybee had steadied the nonprofit after "a little bit of crisis."

"I think people had lost faith in SWAIA for a while because of the bureuacracy that was going on with the board," Toya said. "Now we're more transparent. Dallin helped make that happen. He wanted the artists to be included."

Elizabeth Pettus, board treasurer, echoed the sentiment, lauding Maybee's work with the market and nonprofit, saying he was able to make tough and potentially unpopular decisions while also serving as a "champion" for authenticity in Native art.

"He did an amazing job," Pettus said. "We have nothing but respect and gratitude for him."

Maybee said he would remain in Santa Fe likely through February to assist the next operations executive through the artist application and jurying processes.

"I don't know if I'll ever truly leave SWAIA," Maybee said. "I plan on participating as an artist in the near future. It just felt like a good time to get back to what I'd initially gone to school for."

"It should be a fairly smooth and fairly easy transition," Maybee said.

The 97th annual Santa Fe summer Indian Market is scheduled for Aug. 18 and 19.

Contact Tripp Stelnicki at 505-428-7626 or tstelnicki@sfnewmexi­can.com.

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