AMERICAN Indian art crosses every art medium and style known.
It's a lot more than silver jewelry, fine pottery, or exquisite
weaving, though it encompasses those venerable forms.
From performance art, filmmaking, and painting, to sculpture,
graphic design, and haute couture, Indian artists are now exploring
every field and art form. Yet most Indian artists continue to draw
inspiration from their individual tribal histories and culture.
Only an institution with a special mission could fully address
the needs of young American Indian artists by allowing them to find
their identities as Indians while nurturing individual expression.
Most colleges and universities are engaged primarily in passing on
But Santa Fe's Institute of American Indian Art (IAIA) is
special. This federally sponsored community college intentionally
engages students with native American traditions and contemporary
Since opening in 1962, IAIA has nurtured artists who have earned
distinguished reputations. Names like Dan Namingha, Earl Biss,
Rollie Grandbois, Doug Hyde, Kevin Red Star, and T.C. Cannon grace
its alumni rolls. Many of the most important Indian artists working
today have either attended or taught at the institute.
To those who work and study there, IAIA is more than an
institution: It's a cause. "There's nothing like IAIA anywhere,"
says Richard Hill, the institute's museum director and a member of
the Tuscarora nation in New York.
"There's no other place where Indians can go to school to learn
about Indian art. IAIA offers a new approach to Indian art
predicated on the fact that you are an Indian individual living in a
modern world. You have to find out what that means and then you have
to find ways to express that - with no cultural parameters except
those you set for yourself," he says.
The institute was established by the Bureau of Indian Affairs
(BIA) as a progressive experiment during the Kennedy administration.
The 1960s saw a growth in popular interest in Indian culture.
"In the early years the institute got wonderful support," says
Kathryn Harris Tijerina, IAIA's new president. "It was just a
powerhouse. Allan Houser, Fritz Scholder, Lewis Ballard, Charles
Loloma - in fact, almost all the great names connected with Indian
art - taught here.... But as the government changed hands and
interest in native Americans cooled, the bureaucracy took over.
There was no one fighting for the budget," Ms. Tijerina says.
The school declined. Its cause foundered. The institute was
evicted to make room for expansion of the Santa Fe Indian School.
The IAIA found temporary accommodations at the College of Santa Fe
in 1981. Morale of faculty and student body plummeted as funds
dwindled. So, in 1988 Congress sprung IAIA loose from the BIA just
as it teetered on the brink of extinction, assigning it a federal
charter and a governing board of trustees (the majority of whom are
Indians) appointed by the president of the United States. The board
reports directly to Congress.
TODAY the IAIA's student body and faculty are 66 percent native
Americans from tribes all over the country. While all Indian
students receive tuition scholarships, most come from low-income
families and living in Santa Fe is financially difficult. Many
students have families, and institute-supported family housing and
daycare are not available.
"The dwindling federal dollar impacts very directly on the
students," Mr. Hill says. "It's very expensive to live in Santa Fe,
and the average wage is very low. The No. 1 reason why Indians don't
finish school is financial."
Yet despite its ongoing financial problems, the IAIA shows
glittering signs of regeneration. Last year 140 prime acres a few
miles south of downtown were donated to IAIA for a new campus. …