Writer Fadi Sitto
Photography Courtesy of Heard Museum

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]midst a quaint open-air courtyard stands an epic structure of human history and grandeur: the Heard Museum.

The Heard Museum in downtown Phoenix is a must-see place to explore when you’re in the heart of our city. The museum is designated as a Phoenix Point of Pride, making it one of the 33 landmarks that represent the best features of the city for both residents and visitors.

One of the more essential ways the Heard supports American Indian artists and heartens their artistic endeavors is through fairs and festivals. The museum’s headline spring season event is the Indian Fair and Market.

Since its founding by Dwight and Maie Bartlett Heard in 1929, the museum has been dedicated to the advancement of American Indian art and presenting the stories of American Indian people from a first-person perspective. The institution proudly houses rare, noteworthy exhibits that demonstrate the splendor and pulsating existence of traditional and contemporary art.

The 61st Indian Fair and Market is a long-standing, nationally recognized event held each year on the first weekend of March. It’s the largest art market in Arizona and is the second-largest market of its kind in the country, attracting upward of 20,000 art lovers and collectors.

Invited participants include more than 600 juried Native artists from 116 tribal affiliations in the United States and Canada. There are also 44 emerging artists who are under the age of 18, presenting their skills and talents.

This celebrated art fest is put together and run by the Heard Museum Guild, the volunteer arm of the museum. The guild was founded in 1956 as a group of helpers dedicated to supporting the mission and programs of the museum; they are an integral part of all aspects and daily life of the museum. 

The first guild members were originally all women, and the first male member was former Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater. He was a notable friend and strong supporter of the Heard Museum. 

It’s no secret that Barry Goldwater loved Native American culture and people, and was known to be quite a good photographer; the museum houses many prominent photographs that Mr. Goldwater took.

Collectively, the 450 guild members have contributed well over a million volunteer hours. Additionally, their fundraising efforts provide upward of $150,000 annually to support Heard Museum operations, educational programs and activities.

“There is a labor of love, warmth and longevity to this event,” says Anna Flynn, chair of the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market.

Anna, a former lecturer at Arizona State University has a passion for her volunteer work with the Heard Guild, and it shows. 

“We insure all the art here at the Indian Fair is authentic while showcasing the cross cultural interactions you can have with the artists, the artists love to engage with the people,” she explains.

This year’s event will feature rows of specialty booths displaying handmade jewelry, paintings, photography, pottery, beadwork, quillwork and other artisan works.

“Just the number of different artists doing different things from different tribes is so dynamic,” Anna says.

The Indian Fair and Market extravaganza kicks off with the Best of Show reception and awards ceremony. This opening night ticketed affair spotlights the very best of the best in nine art categories, and showcases the creativity and talent of exhibiting fair artists.  

In addition, there are highly anticipated cultural performances including the likes of Tony Duncan, a five-time world champion hoop dancer and Native American Music Awards Artist of the Year.  

If it’s traditional Native music you’re looking for, be sure to wander toward the fair’s courtyard stage, where you’ll enjoy listening to various musicians sponsored by Canyon Records. Catch live performances by Aaron White, Clark Tenakhongva and Xavier Yxayotl, just to name a few. 

Canyon Records of Phoenix produces and distributes Native American music and is one of the oldest independent record labels in the music industry, as well as one of the oldest cultural institutions in Arizona. 

There is also a fabulous not-to-be missed fashion show held in the main courtyard. Who needs to go to Paris, Milan or New York for a lesson in style, when you can get that here in Phoenix? Preview a stunning array of must-have fashions and watch models walk the Heard catwalk in creations by designers of wearable art. All featured designers are invited fair artists. 

If you bring the kids to the Indian Fair and Market, check out the happenings in the Steele Auditorium. Here you’ll discover Young Warriors Storytelling and Crafts with Violet Duncan, a fun interactive show complete with animal mask-making, storytelling and sing-alongs.

Violet Duncan, who is the wife of the legendary Tony Duncan, is a legend herself. She too is a world-famous dancer, an author, and she was Miss Indian World 2012. As such, she represented all indigenous people of North America. 

Violet effortlessly combines traditional dance styles and storytelling to interpret tales passed down from generation to generation. She has performed for audiences across the United States, Canada and Europe. 

World-class community events like the Indian Fair and Market solidify this Arizona treasure as the preeminent museum of American Indian art. The Heard Museum continues to be a preserved home, giving voice to a uniquely American people.