IAIA 101

In­sti­tute of Amer­i­can In­dian Arts: A sur­vey course

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A sur­vey course

South of I-25, deep in the vast­ness of Ran­cho Viejo on Avan Nu Po Road, is the In­sti­tute of Amer­i­can In­dian Arts, bet­ter known as IAIA. It’s the only con­gres­sion­ally char­tered tribal col­lege in the coun­try. Since the new cam­pus opened in 2000, build­ings have gone up based on the avail­abil­ity of fed­eral and pri­vately raised funds. The cam­pus now in­cludes mul­ti­ple class­room and stu­dio build­ings, a li­brary, dor­mi­tory and fam­ily hous­ing, a wide va­ri­ety of in­door and out­door spa­ces for stu­dents to gather, a dance cir­cle, sweat lodges, a ho­gan, and a com­mu­nity gar­den and green­house. Most of the wall space through­out cam­pus is ded­i­cated to stu­dent art.

Out­side of the Al­lan Houser Hao­zous Sculp­ture & Foundry Build­ing af­ter a re­cent rain, the wash of col­ors from ground to sky com­bined with the early evening light and the per­fume of sage, ver­bena, and ju­niper for the ul­ti­mate mo­ment of high-desert beauty that so many artists at­tempt to cap­ture or con­vey. That an art school ex­ists here seems like a mir­a­cle — or the re­sult of ex­tremely hard work and faith in the fu­ture.

The his­tory of IAIA is in­ter­twined with that of other ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions. It grew out of the South­west­ern In­dian Art Project, cre­ated in 1960 by the Rock­e­feller Foun­da­tion and the Univer­sity of Ari­zona. Led by Bu­reau of In­dian Af­fairs ed­u­ca­tor Ge­orge A. Boyce and Lloyd Kiva New (Chero­kee) — a suc­cess­ful fash­ion de­signer with stu­dios in Scotts­dale, Ari­zona — the pro­gram op­er­ated at the cam­pus of the Santa Fe In­dian School (but was not part of it). Dur­ing this time, the BIA shuf­fled SFIS stu­dents and fac­ulty to new schools, pri­mar­ily the Al­bu­querque In­dian School. In 1962 SFIS was closed, and the In­sti­tute of Amer­i­can In­dian Arts of­fi­cially opened as a high school on the same cam­pus. A press re­lease an­nounc­ing the Oc­to­ber 1962 open­ing de­clared that “Amer­i­can In­di­ans have al­ways caught the pub­lic eye and in­spired in­ter­est. Some­times this in­ter­est has been based on sen­ti­ment or glam­our. Quite of­ten, though, it has been sin­cere and deep-rooted. … Many per­sons, In­di­ans and non-In­di­ans alike, have used ev­ery means pos­si­ble to point at­ten­tion to the need for a school where the un­usual artis­tic tal­ents of America’s In­di­ans may de­velop ... a school where the best of the tra­di­tional tribal arts may be ap­pre­ci­ated and con­tin­ued ... a school where the artist or crafts­man will also feel free to reach for new hori­zons.”

“Lloyd Kiva New’s idea was to let Na­tive peo­ple know they didn’t have to give up their In­di­an­ness,” said Della War­rior (Otoe-Mis­souria). Cur­rently the di­rec­tor of the Mu­seum of In­dian Arts and Cul­ture, she served as pres­i­dent of IAIA from 1998 un­til 2006. “There was a time when the art of Na­tive Amer­i­cans was be­ing lost be­cause of all the poli­cies put in place to get them not to prac­tice their cul­ture, their re­li­gion, and their lan­guage. The art was dy­ing. Peo­ple were be­gin­ning to sell trin­kets on the side of the road. So the school was cre­ated.”

Early alumni of the high school and post-high school pro­grams in­clude T.C. Can­non, Rox­anne Swentzell, Joy Harjo, Dan Nam­ingha, Ben­jamin Harjo, and Anita Fields. IAIA was ac­cred­ited as a two-year col­lege by the Bu­reau of In­dian Af­fairs in 1978 (and by the Higher Learn­ing Com­mis­sion in 1984). Also in 1978, with ed­u­ca­tional fa­cil­i­ties in Al­bu­querque in se­ri­ous dis­re­pair, the All Pue­blo In­dian Coun­cil be­gan lob­by­ing con­gres­sional of­fi­cials to re­open the Santa Fe In­dian School to serve stu­dents from the lo­cal pue­b­los. The pue­b­los be­lieved their right to the land su­per­seded the need

for a pan-In­dian art school. Us­ing the In­dian Self­De­ter­mi­na­tion Act as the ba­sis for its ar­gu­ment, the coun­cil tri­umphed and SFIS was re­turned to the pue­b­los in 1980. IAIA, with some as­sis­tance from Con­gress­man Manuel Lu­ján Jr., se­cured a lease down the street at the Col­lege of Santa Fe, built on the site of the aban­doned Bruns Army Hos­pi­tal. IAIA took over a cou­ple of dor­mi­to­ries and held classes in hos­pi­tal bar­racks. “We paid a nice chunk of change for those sub­stan­dard fa­cil­i­ties,” War­rior said.

A push to re­move BIA over­sight of the in­sti­tute be­gan in 1982, led by then-Con­gress­man Bill Richard­son and Sen. Pete Domenici, and suc­ceeded in 1986 with the con­gres­sional char­ter that charges the in­sti­tute with the study, preser­va­tion, and dis­sem­i­na­tion of tra­di­tional and con­tem­po­rary ex­pres­sions of Na­tive Amer­i­can lan­guage, lit­er­a­ture, his­tory, oral tra­di­tions, and the vis­ual and per­form­ing arts.

“This means we’re the only tribal col­lege where the board of trus­tees is ap­pointed by the pres­i­dent of the United States. It means we’re a line item in Congress — though we do still an­swer to tribes both lo­cally and na­tion­ally,” ex­plained artist and ac­tivist Char­lene Teters, an alumna and long­time fac­ulty mem­ber at IAIA, who re­cently be­came the aca­demic dean.

In 1994, 29 tribal col­leges were made land-grant col­leges in the tra­di­tion of the Mor­rill Acts of 1862 and 1890, which had es­tab­lished agri­cul­tural col­leges and en­sured ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties for African Amer­i­cans. The 1994 Land Grant Act made IAIA el­i­gi­ble for sev­eral an­nual fed­eral grants, and the school ful­fills the obli­ga­tions of the land-grant des­ig­na­tion through its Cen­ter for Life­long Ed­u­ca­tion and var­i­ous out­reach pro­grams in lo­cal Na­tive com­mu­ni­ties. The same year IAIA re­ceived land-grant sta­tus, how­ever, Congress de­cided to slash the school’s bud­get, with the in­ten­tion of elim­i­nat­ing the line item en­tirely af­ter three years.

By the mid-1990s, stu­dents were grow­ing weary of the di­lap­i­dated cam­pus, stu­dent and fac­ulty groups were at odds, some staff mem­bers had been laid off, fac­tions had formed, and neg­a­tive press had re­sulted. When the school’s bud­get was cut by more than half and the fu­ture was, at best, un­cer­tain, it seemed the only way out was to re­store IAIA’s rep­u­ta­tion. War­rior was then work­ing in the IAIA de­vel­op­ment of­fice.

In­dian Coun­try To­day ran a se­ries of alumni artist pro­files while she mo­bi­lized the tribes to send res­o­lu­tions about the im­por­tance of IAIA to their con­gres­sional rep­re­sen­ta­tives. “We had to learn to work to­gether or the school was go­ing to go off a cliff. The bud­get had gone to two mil­lion, and the next year there was to be noth­ing. But we got 300 res­o­lu­tions, and then we had a Call for Unity, a big feast and cer­e­mony, and about 400 peo­ple came. Fi­nally, Sen. Domenici’s chief of staff called me and told me we were back in the bud­get and to stop send­ing him tele­grams and faxes. That was a happy, happy day.”

There was def­i­nitely a sense dur­ing those years that IAIA needed a per­ma­nent home, but not all stu­dents minded the set­ting. Sher­win Bit­sui (Diné) earned his as­so­ci­ate’s de­gree in cre­ative writ­ing from IAIA in 1999. “The stu­dents and fac­ulty make the com­mu­nity, so I never felt like we were out­side of a sys­tem. I can

From top to bot­tom, con­struc­tion of the ho­gan on the IAIA cam­pus, 1999; ac­tor Vin­cent Price read­ing po­etry by IAIA stu­dents, circa 1960s, photo Kay V. Wi­est; IAIA ce­ram­ics stu­dio at the Col­lege of Santa Fe Cam­pus, photo Merritt Ed­son Youngdeer; im­ages cour­tesy IAIA Archives

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