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Totah Festival embraces mission, promotes artists

Totah Festival embraces mission, promotes artists


The 32nd Annual Totah Festival was one of many events that did not take place last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Navajo Times | Cyrus Norcross
Fashion designer Penny Singer holds two first-place ribbons for artwork during the 32nd annual Totah Festival and Indian Market on Sept 5. “It was really unexpected that I would win,” Singer said.

This year, the board of directors for the festival wanted to hold their annual event once again.

Robert Felson Jr, senior public relations officer for the Totah Foundation, said, “We had to be as strategic as possible with it. When they started rolling out the vaccination, we had the hopes that things were going to get better.

“But, unfortunately with the new variant that came out, it put a damper on everything,” he said.

Unsure if the festival was going to happen, the board continued to plan in hopes that some positive news would happen.

On Aug. 17, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, announced that the state of New Mexico will implement a mandatory face-mask order. Masks must be worn in public indoor spaces from Aug. 20 to Sept. 15.

“The day I knew Totah Festival was going to happen was the day I read the new executive order that came from the governor’s office,” Felson said. “That is how we knew that the show (Totah Festival) will go on.”

Planning the event, the board decided that some events should not take place, including the powwow, jury art reception and fashion show.

Hand sanitizer and face masks were provided for the artists and visitors to provide a safe atmosphere.

For the first time, vendors were set up outside, which allowed the Farmington Civic Center to be not as congested with numerous people.

“We reduced being inside the exhibit hall by 50 percent,” Felson said. “I think it’s going to add on to future festivals. We may provide more booths outside next year. Because people are liking the flow of traffic.”

When artists found out the Totah Foundation was on, their response was strong.

“We only started off with 50 booths,” Felson said. “But the response was so strong, we added 20 more booths. We ended up capping at 65 artists.

Felson went to say, “The roots of the Totah Festival Foundation have always been for the artist. Many of the artists did not hesitate to enter the Totah Festival. Many of them are happy to be out and about.”

Despite a new COVID-19 variant lurking, the Totah Festival had a strong response not just from the artists but the community as well.

“This is one the of the ways an artist is able to showcase their work, through the 32nd Totah Festival,” Felson said.

Navajo Times | Cyrus Norcross
Mya Frank stands with her winning artwork during the 32nd annual Totah Festival and Indian Market on Sept 5. Frank said, “I got my inspiration to create art from my grandmother.”

“While at these festivals, artists are able to network, gain exposure and generate income from selling their art,” he said. “That is what started this foundation, it is something that will allow this foundation to continue to move forward year to year.”

The Totah Festival began in 1988 with a mission to create a marketplace for Native American artists. Since then, the festival’s mission has allowed it to continue to prosper for 32 years, which allowed it to expand and hold new competitions such as the Navajo rug auction, powwow and fashion show.

“We want to showcase what this area is about, the talent of the artist, the dancing, the songs and the culture,” Felson said. “Through time we want to show our culture, our teachings, our songs, our prayers, that they are still here. The fact that we are still here.”

The Artist Advisory Committee suggested to the foundation to add the following statement to the Total Festival Foundation title: “Artists helping artists keep culture alive.”

The Totah Festival has lived up to this statement and will continue to move forward with its mission to help promote Native American artists and encourage new artists to develop their artwork.

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