imagine that visual art students would benefit from bigger studios on the new campus, but poets just need desks and some writing tools. At College of Santa Fe, we all walked down that long hallway to the cafeteria together in the winter and told ghost stories.” Bitsui, an award-winning writer, currently teaches creative writing at IAIA and San Diego State University.
Though the future still felt tenuous, the school had a 140-acre parcel of land southwest of town, donated by the Rancho Viejo Partnership in 1989. When Warrior became president, she and the board of trustees decided it was time to build roads to the new site and get some infrastructure in place. The first building erected was the hogan, materials for which were donated in 1999 by the American Indian Higher Education Consortium. Students, staff, faculty, and alumni assisted with construction. “When we were out there, one of the board members said there was an eagle coming overhead,” Warrior recalled. “I said it was probably a buzzard, but it was an eagle, and it circled the hogan four times before it flew off. We knew then that everything was going to be all right.” Today, IAIA is a four-year college offering bachelor and associate of fine arts degrees in studio arts, creative writing, museum studies, and cinematic arts and technology; associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in Native American and indigenous liberal studies; and online certificate programs in museum studies, Native American art history, and business and entrepreneurship. In 2013 a low-residency (distance-learning) master of fine arts program in creative writing was introduced. Plans are in the works to reintroduce programs that were eliminated during the lean years of the budget cuts, including performing arts. The student population, which has doubled since Robert Martin (Cherokee) succeeded Warrior as president in 2007, is now 531, with more than half of students enrolled full-time. Sixty percent of students live on campus, and about 20 percent of students are non-Native. Seventy-five federally recognized tribes are represented. Well over half of the faculty is Native, as is roughly half of the staff and administration. Martin would like to see enrollment double again by 2017, and with tuition a mere fraction of the cost of that at comparable art schools, this seems feasible.
IAIA alumni are among the stars of Santa Fe Indian Market and the Indigenous Fine Art Market, and their work can be found in museums and galleries, as well as in books and films. With the introduction of ultramodern art practices like fabrication and motion-capture digital video, the art being made is
starting to look very different than that made by some of the institute’s most famous alumni, who cast long shadows that can be intimidating for young artists ready to step into the spotlight.
“Dan Namingha, T.C. Cannon — all of those that get mentioned so often — we call them the alumni of our golden age,” Teters said. “It sounds like we have no current stars, but we do. I think the next golden age is now.”
As has been tradition since the 1960s, many IAIA alumni return to teach after completing graduate studies and achieving some artistic success. One such alumna is Rose B. Simpson, from Santa Clara Pueblo, who teaches a course in indigenous aesthetics. Her grandmother Rina Swentzell, went to IAIA, as did her mother, Roxanne Swentzell. Simpson earned an MFA in ceramics from the Rhode Island School of Design, where she wrote her thesis on the difference between Western and indigenous aesthetics. She is represented by Chiaroscuro Contemporary Art in Santa Fe, and her work is in the Denver Art Museum, the Portland Museum of Art in Maine, and other collections. Simpson graduated from IAIA in 2007 with a BFA in studio arts and a reputation as an outspoken critic of what she considers the “post-colonial stress disorder” mentality embedded in the mission of the school.
“Being a Native artist is different from being Native in general,” she said. “We’re the weirdos of our tribes, so IAIA was like a huge tribe of indigenous weirdos, and that was a validating experience.” But Simpson was interested in having conversations that not everyone wanted to engage in, such as the idea that IAIA was founded as a way to educate artists in the best way to exploit their culture for financial gain. “It was part of assimilation, the colonization process to get indigenous people to live within the Western economic world. The Indian art world — Santa Fe Indian Market and all that jazz — has supported and fed me, so there are pros and cons to all of it. I just want to have the conversation. I want to ask questions instead of pretending that if you have your [certificate of degree of Indian blood] and you draw something and put a feather on it, you can make a living. I say that I claim IAIA and all of its problems, because at this point it’s my responsibility to change the conversation and dialogue. The Indian art world has been marginalized, so how do we create a dialogue about why this is, and how do we remedy it? IAIA is a think-tank full of the most creative leaders in our communities who can foster and nurture a new reality for our people.”
2015 IAIA commencement; photo Jason S. Ordaz