Colleen Farwell and her Dartmouth College roommate, Tailinh Agoyo, had not seen each other in quite some time when they got together for a spa weekend in Santa Fe about five years ago.
“I wrote this children’s book, and I’d just love to get it out into the world,” Farwell recalls telling Agoyo. I Will Carry You is a book about an Indigenous mother’s love for her daughter, and Farwell, who is Crow, asked Agoyo, who is Narragansett, for her help.
Agoyo had recently launched a nonprofit organization called We Are the Seeds to celebrate Native American history, arts and culture, and connected Farwell with Native American artist Eleanor Grosch to illustrate the book.
Those connections have not only stayed strong but come full circle.
We are the Seeds continues to promote Native artists through markets and community outreach since its founding in 2016, growing its reach from Santa Fe to the East Coast as it works to introduce authentic, high-quality Indigenous art to the world.
That history provides a sense of comfort as the organization steels itself for another year in the face of the pandemic. Prospects for We Are the Seeds’ art festival, which usually takes place in the summer, are uncertain for the moment.
In 2020, the Seeds festival had to be canceled due to state-mandated pandemic restrictions, and Agoyo had to refund artists their booth fees.
Last year, the group did not hold a two-day event but instead hosted an opening at Form & Concept, a contemporary art gallery in Santa Fe.
Agoyo said she’s hesitant to make any announcements about this year’s market, and Seeds is taking a wait-and-see approach.
“We still are in talks of having a presence in Santa Fe in August,” she said.
Nevertheless, the organization continues to make inroads — and innovations — as time goes on.
Several years ago, We Are the Seeds put down roots in Philadelphia after Agoyo moved there with her husband, Herman, and their four boys. The organization moved into an art studio on Cherry Street Pier, a historic shipping dock turned park and exhibition space.
Seeds opened its doors to the public for happenings and sold art from its gallery.
With a staff of six, the group also hosted two arts festivals on the pier, one in 2019 and the other in 2020.
“It was wildly successful, and I think really showed Philly a lot about who we are and what we can do,” Agoyo said, adding she plans another for this year, in September.
We Are the Seeds also recently launched a podcast called From Here, With a View featuring interviews with local personalities making a difference in the community. The organization also partners with local schools and museums to highlight local Indigenous art and culture.
“There are 14,000 people in the Philadelphia area that identify as Indigenous, and to have an organization there like Seeds that’s not just connecting the immediate community — but the larger community — together. It’s really inspiring,” Farwell said.
The success elsewhere has brought a sense of accomplishment and pride as the group surveys its roots in Santa Fe.
We Are the Seeds got its start in 2016 after Sandra Brice, events and marketing director at the Santa Fe Railyard, asked Agoyo if she would like to organize an art market at Railyard Park to coincide with the annual Indian Market.
Agoyo, along with Seeds co-founder and now-head curator at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center Paula Mirabal, had worked together at the International Folk Art Market near the Railyard for several years.
“We knew the space; we knew how to produce a show there,” said Agoyo, who called the three-day event We Are the Seeds Santa Fe. The festival included music, food, performances, literary workshops, children’s art workshops and roughly 80 booths selling Native American art.
“The focus was really about celebration — a feeling of openness and sharing and joy,” Agoyo said. “It was a space where we could really be ourselves.”
Agoyo, 50, who grew up in Rhode Island and raised her family in Santa Fe, also worked as the director of marketing and public relations for the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts’ Indian Market for several years.
Agoyo said the Indian Market brings in scores of tourists from across the country and can feel overwhelming to some.
“We Are the Seeds had a lot of local community,” Agoyo said.
Indigenous artists sold paintings, pottery, clothing and more. Agoyo rented booths only to artists whose work was handmade from quality materials.
“A lot of artists would do our show, and then head over to Santa Fe Indian Market,” Agoyo said. “Two different vibes, two different opportunities and, in many ways, two different audiences.”
SWAIA held Indian Market last year as a hybrid event, with art sold on the Plaza and live events shown virtually. The juried art market is set to return to an in-person event Aug. 20-21, Kim Peone, the group’s executive director, said.
Seeds has recently expanded its online and in-person programming to include storytelling and dance performances, along with moderated panel discussions — the group says it has produced more than 140 programs in Philadelphia.
Agoyo and Farwell have teamed up again, along with business partner Avery Amaya, to develop a new company called Project Antelope. The initiative will help Indigenous artists take control over their business and narrative, with opportunities to engage with audiences worldwide.
“Stay tuned,” Agoyo said.