IAIA: Where Have We Come in 50 Years; Where Are We Headed?


If President Robert Martin had to choose one word to describe the Institute of American Indian Arts””poised to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2012””that’s the word he would use: creativity.

“Creativity,” President Martin continues, is “what I’ve really enjoyed in my four plus years here.” President Martin has learned a lot about the creative process by watching students grow in their time spent at IAIA. “They come in as freshman and they’ve got the talent, but you see the progression they make as artists and how their creativity blossoms.”

In addition to celebrating longevity, President Martin says the college is also “celebrating the history and tradition and the impact we’ve had, not just in Native contemporary arts but in contemporary arts.”

While it’s a time to look back on where the college has come from and all that it has accomplished, it’s also a time to consider the future.

“If we take time to really celebrate the significance of the last 50 years,” says President Martin, “that means we have to look at what we’re doing now and make sure that we strengthen the institute’s programs so that we’re able to accomplish even more in the next 50 years.”

IAIA’s 50th anniversary will be celebrated with events taking place all year long. The kick off to the festivities takes place at 6:30 pm, Tuesday, Nov. 1 at the Lensic Performing Arts Center. The event is entitled The Art of Being Human and is “an hour-long anthology of live performance and media.” The goal of the event is not only to celebrate IAIA’s 50 years, but also to educate the Santa Fe community at large.

The college has come a long way in its 50 years. According to Dean Ann Filemyr, the changes have been “enormous.”

What has changed? Except for the art based curriculum, almost everything. Filemyr notes the most significant change is that the college is no longer run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs [BIA]. That rule ended in the early 1980s. Today, IAIA is a federally charted college.

Filemyr further explains that this college was founded as a response to “an extremely negative report on BIA run schools that was done by the federal government.”

The response to this report was to do a “good” BIA boarding school. Thus IAIA came into being.

It began as a boarding school in Santa Fe for high school students starting at age 13. They would not only receive a high school diploma for their years spent at IAIA, but they would learn from a curriculum that was specifically art centered.

Being a federally charted college is a unique position in and of itself. IAIA is one of three in the nation. The other two are Howard University and Gallaudet University, both founded in the 1800s; one to serve African Americans and one to serve the deaf.

IAIA is the only federally charted college founded in the 20th century, Filmyr notes. It was founded in the mid 1980s by an act of Congress, and signed into being by the president of the United States.

By the 1970s, IAIA was no longer just a high school. There was also an option of the post-graduate program, which meant a student could finish his or her high school education and then stay an additional two years.

Yet the 1970s also were an unstable time for the college as it sought to offer official two-year degrees while, at the same time, the BIA tried to close IAIA.

In the 1980s, Filemyr says, the charter began and the college underwent its own accreditation process.

Now, in 2011, IAIA is individually and independently accredited by The Higher Learning Commission and The National Association for Schools of Art and Design.

IAIA began talking of the four-year program in the late 1990s, but didn’t implement it until the 2000s. The first four-year baccalaureate degrees were awarded in 2004.

Yet while IAIA reinvented itself and its curriculum each decade, the commitment to be art centered and to focus on native arts and cultures has always remained. “That’s the consistent thread,” Filemyr says, “from 1962 when it was a high school and 13 year olds came and lived in the dorms until 2011, where we serve a very diverse age of interested undergraduate students.”

James Stevens was a student at IAIA during the 1980s, when the only post high school education available was for two years. Stevens currently teaches in the creative writing department at the college. He is a widely published poet and an alumnus of Brown University.

When he was a student, he says, “there was more of a push to create more of an ‘Indian’ product.” He feels that now students/artists are able to do anything they want in their field.

Stevens says one of the most important realizations for students at this school to have when making their art is to understand their instructors are open to all forms of expression and exploring identity.

“Our artists are like any other artists,” he says. “Some make it, some don’t, but they are free to do what they want to do.”

Much of that work will be on display Nov. 1””and part of the purpose of the celebration is to show that creativity to the greater Santa Fe community.

Many hope the anniversary celebration will help show the greater community more of the diverse work being created at IAIA. President Martin sees the celebration as a way to correct misconceptions about the school, such as that its campus is closed to the public, and that the school, campus and its events are only open to Native Americans. Martin also  believes the greater Santa Fe community may be unaware of the breath of the curriculum.

For example, most people in the community do not know that there’s a Creative Writing program available at the college. Nor do they know there is a Museum Studies program or that there’s an Indigenous Liberal Studies program.

These programs are not as well known as the Studio Arts program and the Media Arts program. For President Martin the festivities are therefore “a great opportunity for education.”

And this education process is also is a way of building the school’s future relationship.

“From the community’s perspective, I want them to view us as a resource, something for them to invest in,” Martin says. “That they can benefit from it as well, in a number of ways.  And from the other side, for our students to interact with community, through service, through internships, through programming, through opportunities to share their work, their creativity and talents.”



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