American Indian Culture Preserved in New Mexico: Institute Survives despite Big Cuts in Federal Funding

By Duin, Julia | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 22, 1996 | Go to article overview

American Indian Culture Preserved in New Mexico: Institute Survives despite Big Cuts in Federal Funding


Duin, Julia, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


SANTA FE, N.M. - Their bronzed faces face the viewer, framed by jet-black hair, inquiring black eyes and glittering clothing decked with turquoise, earth-colored beads, white feathers, tradition and mystery.

Such is the surrealistic art at Santa Fe's Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), North America's cultural center of Indian art as seen through Indian eyes.

Forty percent of the alumni of this two-year college are full-time artists. Indian art brings in $500 million in sales in America and another $60 million abroad.

Despite American Indian art being some of the world's most expensive ethnic products, the IAIA sees itself as the main supplier of artists who will create new markets for what is less and less clay pots and beads and increasingly oils and tapestries.

"We're totally unique and we're a national treasure," says development director Della Warrior. She works out of the Institute's 4-year-old museum on a leafy plaza across the street from the San Francisco Cathedral in downtown Santa Fe. Beneath her on the museum's first floor, visitors admire the Southwest landscapes, reservation still-lifes, politically tinged canvases, jewelry, baskets and sculptures produced by some of the Institute's 3,200 graduates.

Yet the IAIA is in trouble. Two years ago, the 104th Congress chopped the IAIA's $9.4 million budget 44 percent to $5.5 million. Congress would have zeroed out the institute had Rep. Joe Skeen, New Mexico Republican and a member of the House Appropriations Committee, not intervened.

"We had a lot of new people in Congress," Miss Warrior says. "A lot of decision-makers were not from states with large Indian populations, so they weren't aware of the needs out there." Despite the museum being a national repository for Indian culture, Indian culture was not selling to the influx of freshman Republicans at that point.

Every department was told to slash its budget 50 percent and cancel the scholarships. Ninety-one percent of the students were on them, meaning no one was being charged the $9,000 tuition plus another $6,000 in expenses for the school.

Now "we do have a tuition policy in place," Miss Warrior says, "but the vast majority have no means of paying it unless they get financial aid."

Student enrollment dropped from 260 to 178 and 47 full-time faculty and staff and five part timers were laid off. Further cuts made this summer slashed faculty from 29 to 11. Because many Indians feared the school would shut down completely, only 100 students enrolled this year.

The college cut out two major departments, including the performing arts, which meant all theater, dance, weaving, fashion design and music got eliminated.

Then they scaled down the Center for Research and Cultural Exchange, which helped document oral histories and legends and helped some of the tribes preserve their languages. Many tribe's languages are already extinct and by 2020 only 20 out of 547 federally recognized tribes will have their languages intact, Miss Warrior said.

If that weren't enough, the North Central Accreditation Association put the institute's accreditation - which they've had since 1984 - on probation. Their reasons: Student-faculty ratios were too high, there were no general-education courses, few student activities and the classroom facilities were substandard.

Which is true. The institute's classrooms are housed in World War II barracks across town on an isolated corner of the College of Santa Fe just south of town. One saving grace is the institute's 19,000-volume library filled with specialty publications by and about Indians. …

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