As visitors passed by Monday, Nov. 6, Marissa Irizarry worked on a metal sculpture of a thunderbird, a mythological figure in Native American culture known for its supernatural power and ability to deliver messages to humans.
The native of the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana is a first-year student at the Institute of American Indian Arts, a four-year arts college just south of Santa Fe. She is used to working alongside other students and under the watchful eye of faculty members, but Monday the campus was humming with extra activity as hundreds of people gathered for an open house.
“It’s really kind of honoring to see how many people want to see what we are making out here,” she said. “It’s like we’re on the edge of Santa Fe.”
Monday’s event, which was designed to raise the profile of the 55-year-old institution, included a dedication ceremony for the school’s new Performing Arts and Fitness Center, student performances and exhibitions, campus tours and an archery demonstration.
“There are still people here who don’t know anything about the Institute of American Indian Arts’ mission or programming,” said the college’s president, Robert Martin. “This is an opportunity for us to showcase our talented faculty and students.”
Several IAIA alumni are from Taos Pueblo or have family there including Suann Davin, Jacqueline and Carol Gala, Ken Romero and David Suazo. The Gaussoin family – Connie Tsosie, Wayne and David – Picuris Pueblo and Navajo, also are alumni of the institution.
Some 80 percent of the 517 students are Native American, but the institute – which offers four-year degrees in studio arts, creative writing, cinematic arts and technology, Indigenous liberal studies and museum studies – enrolls students regardless of their racial or cultural background, Martin said.
“Some people, when they see the word ‘Indian’ stop right there,” he said. “But we are a community resource and want people to use us as a resource.”
Many people who attended Monday’s open house said they had never been to the college before. One was Deborah Newberg, who has lived in Santa Fe since 1985 and teaches at the nearby Santa Fe Community College. She said she wanted to see the new performing arts space, which includes dance studios, a costume shop, rehearsal space and a black-box theater with configurable audience seating.
“I’m embarrassed to say that this is my first time here,” Newberg said.
On the other hand, Santa Feans Richard and Chris Furlanetto, who live just off Richards Avenue, not far from the college, said they have often visited the campus.
“It’s one of the secrets of town,” Richard Furlanetto said. “It’s hid way out here. They do really good art work here.”
Many students attended class as usual Monday, stopping to answer visitors’ questions. Others, like Irizarry, worked in open arts spaces so that visitors could watch them create art.
“It’s a great way for people to come and see what they don’t usually get to see,” said student Jeff Begay, who is studying painting.
With the addition of the new 24,000-square-foot Performing Arts and Fitness Center, the college can revive its long-dormant performing arts program, possibly by school year 2018-19, and expand its physical education classes, Martin said.
The new gym can hold up to 300 spectators and includes a fitness room that will feature new cardio and weightlifting equipment and new locker rooms. That equipment has not yet been installed, but it should be by year’s end, allowing students to start using the facility by January at the latest, Chief Financial Officer Larry Mirabal said.
The new facility cost about $9.5 million and took a year to build. The college relied on state severance tax bond funds, U.S. Department of Education Title III money, private gifts and the American Indian College Fund, among other sources.
The institute, one of 37 tribal colleges in the country, initially opened on the campus of the Santa Fe Indian School on Cerrillos Road. It moved to its current location on Avan Nu Po Road in 2000.
Contact Robert Nott at 505-986-3021 or firstname.lastname@example.org. This story first published in the Santa Fe New Mexican, a sister publication of The Taos News.