Home Articles The Feria Maestros del Arte Celebrates 20 Years at Chapala  

The Feria Maestros del Arte Celebrates 20 Years at Chapala  

Credit: Florence Leyret

The Feria Maestros del Arte celebrates 20 years at Chapala this year after being shut down for two years by the pandemic.  The famous Mexican folk-art show is returning November 11-13 at the Lake Chapala Yacht Club (Club de Yates Chapala).

This year, the Feria marks two decades of continuous efforts to preserve endangered Mexican folk art. The event gives many artisans across Mexico an opportunity to sell their products directly to consumers and is well-known for helping to create awareness of these disparate art forms.

Ninety artisans from many states in Mexico will take part in the Feria this November.

Marianne Carlson Ajijic, Mexico
Marianne Carlson

To learn more about the special anniversary, the Feria and its future, we spoke with the organization’s founder, Marianne Carlson, who lives at Lakeside.

“It’ll probably be our biggest attendance because people have been waiting for two years to have it,” she told me, adding that they “expect the artisans to do well.”

How the Feria Works

First, the Feria is a nonprofit organization that is run solely by volunteers.

Each year a committee selects a wide range of artists from around the country that will show their work at the Feria. Besides giving artisans a platform to sell their handcrafts, the organization also covers their transportation costs to the Feria and arranges accommodations for them with residents of Lake Chapala.

“We pay for three first-class buses to bring artisans from Chiapas, Oaxaca and Michoacan,” Carlson said, adding that their patrons help cover the costs. They have also flown artisans who live farther away in Campeche and Yucatán, for example, to the Feria. If participants come from a state where the Feria doesn’t operate a bus, they reimburse their fuel costs. Carlson said if they ask artisans to pay for their own transportation, “that might take a huge chunk of the money they make at the Feria.”

The event primarily depends on income from ticket sales and donations: “We couldn’t put the Feria on without our patrons’ help,” she said.

While Carlson has asked for help from local government over the years, she said they haven’t received adequate support. But in a welcome move, she said they received a grant this year from the Secretaría de Económía de Jalisco. She added, though, that the Feria urgently needs more volunteers.

“Because we haven’t had a Feria for two years, we have lost a lot of our key volunteers, and we are really struggling. If we don’t get some more interest in the Feria at this year’s show, it’s very possible we won’t be able to continue. It’s almost worse than starting over again,” Carlson said.

Feria Maestros del Arte Chapala, Mexico
Feria Maestros del Arte

The organization is especially struggling to find volunteers with technical expertise. “Finding some people that have technical experience is the hardest. Because my generation, for the most part, you know, they don’t know more than being able to use Facebook and email. And the younger people want to get paid, which is absolutely fair,” she said.

They are looking for volunteers proficient in tools and platforms like Microsoft Word and Excel, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, Shopify, social media, and others.

They also need help with advertising, transportation, translation, and more. Carlson said they don’t turn away anyone: “There’s a job for everybody.”

If you’d like to volunteer for the Feria, even remotely, you can contact Marianne Carlson at info@feriamaestros.com or call her at 331 098 4850 (also available on WhatsApp).

The future of Mexican folk art and the Feria

Artisans’ children are not as keen to continue the traditional arts and crafts for valid reasons, according to Carlson:

Feria Maestros del Arte in Lake Chapala
Credit: Marianne Carlson

“From year to year, we feel we are doing our part to help a small percentage of artisans take home money that can keep them going throughout the year,” she said, “but more and more, the next generation is not wanting to follow in their parents’ footsteps. It’s a hard life. And with the pressure of modernization, knockoffs made in China, the competition, and all of the problems that face an artisan, you can hardly blame the younger generation for wanting to have an easier life that puts food on the table all the time.”

She said there’s a need for more opportunities, including continuing the current programs: “We need more shows like the Feria Maestros del Arte where the artisans take home every centavo they make.”

She added that the artisans need opportunities to get in front of collectors and buyers who may buy products on an ongoing basis throughout the year.

If the local government can’t provide financial assistance, Carlson said she would appreciate advertising and promotional help. She believes they could work together to preserve these endangered artisans and their work: “We could all work together to advertise each other’s events. And to help each other,” she said.

The Feria, though, has an exciting project in the pipeline: an online platform for artisans to sell their wares. It will be part of the Feria’s website, and they plan to work on it after this year’s show. But there are challenges because of the limited digital presence and technical skills of many artists.

The online store needs professional photographs, but Carlson also has created instructions to help artisans improve their photography. She said it will be a learning process for many artisans, adding that some don’t even have a social media presence. She would like to see everyone using at least Facebook to sell their products.

When asked about her dreams for the Feria, she told me she was taking it a year at a time.

“My dream right now is that we will have interested volunteers come forward this year and that we’ll at least be able to continue another year.”

Carlson said their group of volunteers work well together without letting personal agendas get in the way, respect each other and have fun. “I welcome people that would like to get involved with us and, at the same time, be able to learn about this wonderful art in Mexico.”

Finally, she wanted “to thank everyone who feels that learning and sharing about the Feria is something worthwhile.”

You can go to the Feria Maestros del Arte website to find out more about how you can support and donate to this long running celebration of the art of Mexico.

This year the Feria will be held at the Chapala Yacht Club from 9.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. November 11th and 12th and from 9:30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. on November 13th. The admission is only $80 pesos, or about US$4.

Help support the wonderful artisans this year by attending the 20th anniversary of the Feria and enjoying the art and culture of Mexico, educational activities, entertainment and great food.