A Q&A with Diane Bowman of Española Valley Fiber Arts (Española, NM)

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          Room of women working on looms in a weaving workshop

The Española Valley Fiber Arts Center offers classes in many fiber arts techniques, such as this color theory class for weavers. Photo by Diane Bowman

Española Valley Fiber Arts (EVFA) is one of the more than 60 sites on New Mexico’s Fiber Arts Trail. A project of New Mexico Arts (NMA), the state’s arts agency, the Fiber Arts Trail showcases more than 250 of New Mexico’s fiber artists while also generating economic health and stability in the state’s many rural areas. EVFA Executive Director Diane Bowman spoke with the NEA about the Fiber Arts Trail success story.

NEA: What is Española Valley Fiber Arts?

DIANE BOWMAN: We’re a nonprofit membership organization, and we’ve been in existence for about 12 years. Now we have 450 members. We teach all kinds of fiber arts--weaving, knitting, embroidery, papermaking, basketmaking, everything under the sun. We’re also kind of a business incubator for fiber artists. We teach business classes, we help [our artists] with marketing, we provide studio space and equipment and discounts on supplies. We have studios and a gallery, lots of ways to help artists make some money off their art.

Española is not really seen as an arts destination. It’s just some place to drive through between Santa Fe and Taos. So that’s always been a challenge for us, trying to bring some business to our center. When we first started, we were really focused on trying to preserve the [fiber arts] traditions here. But because of changes in the economy and all that, that work was dying out, and people wanted to preserve it. As we’ve grown, we’ve realized that the way to preserve [these traditions] is to make sure that fiber artists can make a living so they continue to do their art.

NEA: EVFA was very involved with creating the Fiber Arts Trail. What was that experience like?

BOWMAN: [We helped to] develop the application because NMA wanted to have some criteria [for artists] to be on the trail. They wanted to make sure that people understood they had to have regular hours, they had to have a visitor-appropriate site, they had to be able to handle money, they had to be able to report back to NMA about what had happened as a result of the trail. There also had to be a [level] of artistic quality to what they were doing, and they had to understand that this was a serious commitment. We helped people to apply . . . and we had to go around and look at each site, meet the artists, check out the directions and all the details you would have to do to develop the maps and the publication. For me, it was a fantastic experience. . . meeting people like Navajo weavers out on the reservation and [going to] places that I would never get to go otherwise. I think that’s true for the people that take [the Fiber Arts Trail guide] and drive to these sites now. They get to see some interesting things that they normally wouldn’t get to see.

NEA: How has Española Valley Fiber Arts benefited from the Fiber Arts Trail?

BOWMAN: I think it’s gotten us a lot of exposure. We were involved as it developed, so we got to meet artists all over the state. . .and out of that came [New Mexico Fiber Artisans], a statewide organization for people involved in fiber arts—organizations, businesses, growers, producers, farms, yarn shops, etc. I’ve been looking at the statistics, and we certainly have had more visitors, and I think the composition has changed a little bit. We’ve got more people from other parts of the country and more people from foreign countries. So it’s been effective in bringing other people to our center that never would’ve gotten here. It’s not like Santa Fe in which you get walk-in traffic. Someone has to know we’re here to come. [The Fiber Arts Trail guide] was such a beautifully done book and so professional, I think it’s given the fiber arts some respect as an art form.

NEA: What’s the value of the Fiber Arts Trail to New Mexico?

BOWMAN: I think that the arts, especially in New Mexico, are one of our greatest assets, and it’s a way to let the rest of the world know that we have a treasure here in these artists. I think it made us all more aware--everybody from the legislature to just individuals that live here--of what we have and more appreciative of what we have. I think the arts are really important for quality of life. This idea of bringing the market to the artists really helps people in these small communities. Probably a quarter of our membership lives in little tiny towns, really isolated areas, where there aren’t a lot of job opportunities. The arts give them a way to supplement their income.

I think New Mexico Fiber Artisans is the biggest thing that came out of it. And the idea of us all working together to market the industry as a whole rather than struggling along on our own is a really good thing. Another thing that I found significant was . . .that all the artists that I met and the organizations really felt that we were partnering with the state and that we were doing it together.

An abbreviated version of this interview appears in NEA ARTS 2008, Volume 2: The NEA’s Partnership with the States: Bringing the Arts to All Americans.