Kim Peone is the new executive director of the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA), a nonprofit that sponsors the Santa Fe Indian Market, the country’s largest annual Native arts event. She is one of three women who have headed SWAIA, and she is the first Native woman to do so.
How did you come to this position?
I’ve had a robust career. I’ve been able to work for multiple Native American tribes, and each of those experiences contributed to my ability to respond in this time. But I really have to take it back to my parents: they both went to the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), and SWAIA was that beloved market that we attended over the course of my entire life. They instilled a passion in me, and now coming back to SWAIA as an adult daughter, a mother and a grandmother, I think that passion will take us a long way.
What is getting us through the current pandemic is supporting and encouraging each other. That’s a heart issue and my heart is in this. It means a lot to me to have the privilege of being part of the SWAIA leadership in this time.
What does it mean to you as a woman, and as a Native woman specifically, to be SWAIA’s executive director? Were there obstacles you overcame to reach this position?
I’m just reflecting on being a very young woman and that question of “What are you going to be when you grow up?” We all have ambitious visions of our lives, but only through life experiences are you actually shaped into who and what you are. In my 30-year career, it was actually the hardest times that shaped me the most, and as a woman, those times could mean lots of things — the challenges of equal pay or competing against counterparts and being able to overcome them.
Even more, I am a forerunner, and I am only doing this in the sense of looking at my grandmothers, my mother and women who overcame in their generations. I’m thinking, How am I overcoming obstacles in my generation? You can do anything you set your mind to. You can also be intuitive towards your destiny and purpose in life, but those roads are not always easy.
Who have been your influences and mentors along this path?
My father — he is no longer here with us — was probably one of my biggest influences as far as encouraging me through hard times. In every single position I’ve ever had, I’ve always had a mentor. Even for this job, I remember my first real, professional encounter with a supervisor, Larry Goodrow. I came in young, with goals and a vision. I’ll never forget this: he said to me, “One day you’ll be an executive director.” This is the first time I’ve actually had that title, and I literally can go back to that time and remember the things he encouraged in me. He was always very intentional in correcting me, guiding me and helping me to see things very differently. Aside from his professional career, he was a poet, and I got to see this vulnerable part of his heart. I will always be grateful to Larry for doing that for me. He instilled in me the importance of bringing up the people around me, and I carry that with me.
What opportunities do you see for SWAIA as we emerge from this pandemic?
I think the pandemic has forced organizations and businesses in every aspect of our economy to look at things differently. Regarding the specific vision, I think the SWAIA virtual art market is exciting. It gives us an opportunity to bring a new type of business model to our artists. My vision is to create sustainability. For me, that’s through relationships and partnerships with individuals, the city and the government, and through exploring the potential of those relationships to support each other.
Is there anything else you would like to say about SWAIA or Indian Market?
As we’re moving through this unprecedented time, we at SWAIA are reexamining who we are and re-imagining what we can be. In this time of change for us, I would like for my New Mexican brothers and sisters to know that we are so excited about this transition. As an organization, we want to be in accord with our community, and we hope that the community will support us.
Editor’s Note: Kim Peone is the third woman to hold the position of executive director of the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA) and the first Native woman to do so. Kim Peone’s female predecessors are Barbara Walzer (2000-2003) and Jean Marquant (1999).
Meg Peralta-Silva was born in Baltimore and lived in many states and countries before moving to New Mexico three years ago. She has worked as a youth advocate, creative expression instructor, program director and farm intern. She enjoys learning from others’ perspectives and challenging her own biases.