Accessibility links

Breaking News

One-of-a-Kind School Teaches Students Native American Arts

One-of-a-kind School in U.S. Immerses Students in Native Arts
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:03:45 0:00

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, a unusual college has been teaching students about Native American arts and culture for more than 55 years.

One-of-a-Kind School Teaches Students Native American Arts
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:05:07 0:00

The huge buildings of the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, stand out against the desert of the American Southwest.

Here, about 500 students are involved in intense study of Native American arts. Some study painting and sculpting. Others learn about storytelling and poetry.

It is the only college like it in the country.

Members of about 100 native tribes attend the school, says IAIA President Robert Martin, a member of the Cherokee Nation. He adds that the school also has non-native students and students from overseas.

“We’re open to everybody,” Martin said.

Daniel Yazie Natonabah is an IAIA student and a member of the Navajo tribe. He said before he started school there, his “whole perspective of the world was just Navajo.”

“But when I came here I learned other perspectives of other tribes," he said.

Dolores Scarlett Cortez is studying printmaking and photography. She says she came to IAIA to help her “come back to my roots a little bit.”

“Growing up I felt like I was really missing that kind of side of me because my parents never talked about it. So what I’m hoping to do is go back to my community to document the people back home that I really care for.”

That goal of giving back to the community is not unusual among the students, says Martin.

the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico teaches arts that including Native American traditional skills.
the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico teaches arts that including Native American traditional skills.

"If you ask the average college student why they're going to college, they'll say, 'I want a job.' You ask our students and they'll say, 'I want to be of service to my family and my community.' And so that makes our students different."

During an outdoor class presentation, student Daniel Forest describes his creation — a grouping of large rocks set in the corner of the small courtyard. The rocks look like bread.

Forest calls his work Shelter.

"It pulls for me from the current border crisis, people trying to make their way to a safe haven from Central and South America and Mexico. And the very sad nature of all that," he tells the group that has gathered.

"They also feel like loaves of bread, which is sustenance that we all need for survival," he added. "But something many people have to go without.”

Forest has only been a student at IAIA for two months. But he says the experience has already changed him.

He says he is developing a change in thinking and understanding. “I already see that the real goal isn’t the art degree,” he says.

Annabella Farmer is a creative writing student. She grew up in Santa Fe. She says being a non-native student at IAIA is good for her.

"To be in the minority here I think is a good growth experience for me… I think that the culture here is just much more welcoming of different perspectives…a more matriarchal society perhaps, which I've really enjoyed."

Many past IAIA students return there to teach.

Anthony Deiter finished 25 years ago. Today, he teaches a new technology to filmmaking students there. Instead of moving images appearing on a flat screen, they appear on a round screen of a so-called digital dome.

He says the new technology fits well with indigenous cultures.

“We are not linear, we're spherical, we're round,” he says. The technology permits “us to tell our stories actually in the round.”

I’m Caty Weaver.

Julie Taboh reported this story for VOA News. Ashley Thompson adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

sculpt - v. to make (something) by carving or molding clay, stone, etc. : to make (a sculpture)

perspective - n. a way of thinking about and understanding something (such as a particular issue or life in general)

haven - n. a place where you are protected from danger, trouble, etc.

loaf (plural - loaves) - n. an amount of bread that has been baked in a long, round, or square shape

sustenance. - n. something (such as food) that keeps someone or something alive

matriarchal (society)- n. societies that are controlled by women

dome - n. a large rounded roof or ceiling that is shaped like half of a ball