The Institute of American Indian Arts is located at 83 Avan Nu Po Road in Santa Fe, New Mexico
While many cities can boast an art school or two, Santa Fe has unusual bragging rights by virtue of having an institute for indigenous artists! Students at the Institute of American Indian Arts (commonly known as IAIA) have the opportunity to partake in an eclectic learning experience in a distinctive Native-centered environment. Faculty and staff, comprised of both native and non-native individuals, provide nurturing support, professional training and positive role models for native students embarking on new endeavors. By opening its doors to the community recently for an afternoon open house, IAIA gave locals and visitors the time to see how this dedicated educational institution fulfills its mission, as stated here: “To empower creativity and leadership in Native arts and cultures through higher education, lifelong learning and outreach.”
The Institute of American Indian Arts was funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and first opened in October of 1962 on the campus of the Indian School in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Under its first Superintendent, Dr. George A. Boyce, the Institute embodied a bold approach to arts education and has evolved through the decades into a leadership role in the contemporary Native American art world. The Institute was later housed on the College of Santa Fe campus before settling it on its expansive new campus about ten years ago. A total of 80 tribes from 25 states are represented in the student body of this multi-tribal learning center, which provides a bridge between a past rich with tradition and the dynamic American Indian culture of the new millennium.
IAIA offers four-year degrees in Studio Arts, Visual Communication, Creative Writing and Museum Studies, and it is uniquely qualified to offer students a foundation from which to build new forms of artistic expression and accomplishment, while guiding them into maturity as proud representatives of their culture and participating citizens of the world. The college promotes Native leadership and offers an ecologically-sound atmosphere that allows students to explore their culture and artistic heritage in a supportive and understanding environment. A place where the spirit and vision of American Indian and Alaska Native people is the number one priority, IAIA honors the traditions of the past, continually being rediscovered and reaffirmed, while giving students the freedom to celebrate their artistic identity in new ways, helped by its affiliation with the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts.
The curriculum at the Institute is geared towards a comprehensive integration of the arts into a college program of study that graduates Native students prepared to juggle the artist’s life with the more mundane aspects of everyday reality. The Creative Writing Dept. holds a prominent place at the College, and students come from reservations and pueblos, cities large and small, to study with nationally and internationally-known working writers. A Studio Arts Department, divided into five areas of focus (painting, photography, ceramics, jewelry/metals, and sculpture), delivers foundational art classes leading to the College’s AFA and BFA degrees. The newer arts are not neglected, since a comprehensive program is in place to teach digital media students the evolutionary principles of new media, as they study the history and theory of graphic design, film and the ongoing evolution of story-telling.
In recognition of the role Native arts have played for thousands of years, IAIA is home to the only museum studies program designed from a Native American perspective. Experienced museum professionals lead the College’s hands-on, experiential program with courses addressing the cultural history of exhibition, curation, conservation, collections and museums themselves.
The Indigenous Studies Program prepares students who desire the broad education that the liberal arts provide. Students are taught to master competencies in critical thinking, research and writing, with courses in culturally-based anthropology, policy, traditional arts, art history and Native American studies. An Essential Studies Program provides a solid undergraduate education in English, math and science, as well as a grounding in the strategies necessary for success in college and life in the wide world beyond the reservation or pueblo. The Native Eyes indigenous studies program offers accredited online courses, and the Center for Lifelong Learning is onsite to coordinate tribal outreach services. To address to the specific health concerns of Native peoples, a Fitness and Wellness Dept. schedules classes to help students develop healthier lifestyles through education and experience.
The open house was held on a Friday afternoon, with the glorious autumn Santa Fe weather offering blue skies, warmth and sunshine even in November. Visitors could take a guided tour or wander at will around the beautiful and state-of-the-art campus located on the southwestern edge of Santa Fe. The feeling was genuinely welcoming, with students and faculty alike proud and eager to demonstrate the worth of the program.
The striking campus buildings were laced with attractive landscaping and sculptures, and on a large circular center lawn, a fierce game of Native stickball, a full contact sport that is the ancestor of lacrosse, was taking place. Student housing comes in the form of dorms and apartment-style homes for students who come with families. An outdoor cooking area promised a tasty potential for adventurous picnicking, although I didn’t notice an horno.
Tours of the classrooms offered ongoing demonstrations by faculty, and visitors were free to roam through the halls, which were liberally hung with student works. Equipment in studio art classrooms was up-to-date, and non-arts rooms were outfitted with computers galore. The museum conservation program showed some serious chops, as Museum Studies Professor Jessie Ryker-Crawford demonstrated art polarizing microscope technology, letting visitors expand their understanding of the conservation concerns involved in maintaining two- and three-dimensional works of art.
An old-fashioned auditorium hosted a continuous screening of Native films, and the new digital dome, opened in October of this year, was designed to revolutionize the college’s fastest-growing degree program, new media arts. The 24-foot diameter, 12-foot high dome is the only one in the world to rotate from 0° to 90° views at 0°, 30°, 45° and 90°. With an 8,000-pound steel exoskeleton and an immersive environment featuring a surround sound system with six film projectors, it will be used to explore science, Native storytelling and art.
A student-run gallery offered an exhibition of student works for sale at very reasonable prices, but it a definite improvement would be realized by painting the gallery walls white to let the artwork shine! A gentle and friendly librarian encouraged visitors to browse the stacks in the expansive, peaceful and thoughtfully LEED-built library, with intelligent-sensor lighting, recycled carpeting and a treasure trove of books, all enhanced with a terrific Geronimo sculpture by Bob Haozous. And our transit back to the car led us by nose to the student cafeteria where locals can come and feast for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Yet another distinctive feature of our City Different, the Institute of American Indian Arts lends authenticity and merit to the artistic reputation of Santa Fe, helping Native youth lead the way into this new millenium. We are genuinely grateful to have IAIA in our midst!