Weaving Fiber Artists Together
Since Southwest Women's Fiber Arts Collective formed in March, fiber artists throughout southwest New Mexico, eastern Arizona and west Texas have a host of new opportunities to expand their skills and market their work. Three members of the Mogollon Rim Fiber Guild, a local group of weavers, knitters, felters and spinners, came together to organize this complementary organization. The collective encompasses a large geographic region and focuses on increasing economic opportunity for its members.
Even before the group had secured funding, they were bombarded with interest and support. At their first meeting at the Rag Rug Festival held at the Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces, more than 30 fiber artists attended to share ideas about what they would like to see in a regional collective. Most wanted ways to sell their work and to have a means to network with other fiber artists.
Shortly after that first meeting, the group received $2,000 from the New Mexico Women's Foundation (NMWF), a Santa Fe-based foundation that provides grants to benefit women working in cottage industries. "Our mission fits perfectly with NMWF's goals," says Charmeine Wait of the collective. "We are connecting fiber artists and organizations with one another, with educational opportunities, and increasing their ability to see economic gain from their artistic endeavors."
With Mimbres Region Arts Council acting as the group's fiscal agent, this first grant went to launch a Web site, www.fiberartscollective.org, where artists, businesses and organizations can register their information to be available online and to be printed in a physical directory slated for publication next month. The collective will distribute the directory to chambers of commerce and to public libraries throughout the region. The collective also used funds to explore possibilities for sales shows. Members attended the Santa Fe Rag Rug Festival organized by NMWF in August, where they sold $2,200 worth of members' work.
"Many women can't afford to do their fiber work full time, and so it can be hard to produce enough work to attend a sales show as an individual," explains Harolene Pitts. "Then you factor in transportation and lodging, and you need to sell a lot of work to break even! It helps all of us to be able to pool resources and sell as a collective."
The necessity of such collaboration has been illustrated repeatedly by individual artists. Most recently, the collective received an email from a woman in Chapparal whose husband is overseas. She has quite a bit of inventory to sell, but can't leave her children to attend a show. "This is exactly who we are trying to serve!" Pitts says.
With support from many individuals and fiber organizations throughout the state, the Southwest Women's Fiber Arts Collective is going forward with more ambitious plans. "We hope to have our own nonprofit status by spring, and we are pursuing other grants and searching for space to start a fiber arts center where we can teach classes, workshops, and sell work," says Wait.
Guilds, businesses, groups and individuals are invited to register on the collective's site before December to be included in this year's Fiber Arts Directory.