FARMINGTON – Still in its relative infancy, the annual “People’s Choice — A Unique Arts Exhibit” founded by local artist Liz Stannard in 2013 remains very much a work in progress.

But by Stannard’s reckoning, the event got a substantial boost this year when 11 Native artists entered their work, marking the first time the contest has attracted that kind of participation from the American Indian community. It also has drawn entries from around the Four Corners, as opposed to last year’s roster that was almost exclusively local.

Stannard regards both developments as extremely healthy, adding the kind of depth to the show that she hopes will help it become established as a highlight of the regional art scene.

“Last year, we had (no artists) from Colorado, and this year we have four,” she said.

Stannard credited Navajo artist Michael Billie, a People’s Choice Committee member and organizer of the N.A.T.I.V.E. project at Capacity Builders, with recruiting the Native artists who will take part.

“The addition of the Native American artists will make a difference,” she said. “I’m not certain why we didn’t get much (Native) participation in the past two or three years, but (Billie is) working hard getting (Native artists) out there.”

The Native group consists of Nick Johnson (acrylic painting), Sally Black (woven basket), Gilmore Scott (acrylic painting), Antoinette Thompson (acrylic painting), Fidel Frank (photography), Venaya Yazzie (beading/mixed media), Daryl Begaye (acrylic painting), Leandra Yazzie (spray paint), Gary Wood (embossing), Gloria Emerson (acrylic painting) and Billie (encaustic).

Billie said it didn’t require much effort on his part to round up the artists and draw them into the competition.

“I didn’t have to do any convincing,” he said. “I just put out an email and made a few cold calls. It was something they all wanted to be a part of.”

The Native artists will be showing their work at the Farmington Chamber of Commerce headquarters, which is one of 15 downtown venues that will showcase the work of the 52 artists who entered. Billie said he is particularly interested in seeing the work of Wood, who runs a body shop in Arizona and who works in the medium of upholstery.

“I’ve never seen this before,” Billie said, explaining that Wood creates natural designs in upholstery. “It’s very subtle, but comes across as very powerful.”

This year’s total number of entries is down slightly from last year’s 57, but Stannard knows that total will fluctuate from year to year. She and other PC Committee members have engineered a handful of other changes to the event that they hope will improve it this year.

As in the past, members of the public will have the chance to vote for their favorite work by registering at the Three Rivers Art Center, visiting the downtown venues that are participating and casting a ballot. The artists with the most votes will receive cash prizes ranging from $750 for first place to $500 for second and $250 for third.

There also will be three Juror’s Choice awards presented this year, with the same dispersal of prize money for first, second and third places. Only one Juror’s Choice award was presented a year ago. Stannard said the increased emphasis on that segment of the show — with artist Susan Reed of Cortez, Colo., serving as the juror — is part of an effort to attract more professional artists to enter their work.

The $250 prize for the winner among entries by San Juan College students has been discontinued this year because of low participation last year.

That kind of tweaking is likely to continue for at least a few more years until PC Committee members finally find the right combination and see the event reach the levels of popularity and participation that they envision.

“I feel like it’s growing on some levels, and also, we are learning,” Stannard said of the exhibit’s evolution. “We are learning what Farmington would like to have in respect to this. It’s not perfect at this point, but I think there’s a lot of excitement about it.”

The exhibit will remain on display for three weeks, reaching its culmination from 5 to 9 p.m. on Friday, April 8 during the Spring Art Walk.

The “People’s Choice” winners will be announced during an awards ceremony at 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 9 at the Farmington Civic Center.

You must be 16 year or older to vote, and you will need to present identification at the TRAC to register. Event catalogs are available there.

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

If you go
What: Opening of the fourth annual “People’s Choice – A Unique Art Exhibit”

When: Saturday, March 19

Where: Fifteen locations in downtown Farmington

To register to vote: Visit the Three Rivers Art Center, 123 W. Main St.