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IAIA receives grant to plan for research center

SANTA FE, N.M. — When the Institute of American Indian Arts received its charter from Congress in 1986 making it an institution of higher education and separating it from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the charter called for IAIA to be a leader in research, and the study of native arts and culture.

Tatiana Lomahaftewa-Singer, IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts curator of collections, archivist Ryan Flahive, and marketing and communications director Eric Davis look over a painting by Charlene Teters in the museum's collection facility. (Megan Bennett/Albuquerque Journal)

Tatiana Lomahaftewa-Singer, IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts curator of collections, archivist Ryan Flahive, and marketing and communications director Eric Davis look over a painting by Charlene Teters in the museum’s collection facility. (Megan Bennett/Journal)

Today, scholars from around the world are sent to the Santa Fe-based campus to use its resources, says Tatiana Lomahaftewa-Singer, curator of collections at IAIA’s Museum of Contemporary Native Arts.

To help streamline and consolidate the school’s research offerings, IAIA has received a $434,000 grant toward planning a new center that would act as a “one-stop shop” for scholarly work on contemporary native art.

The proposed center would house the museum’s art collection, the college’s archive of documents and other materials, and serve as the central space for artists-in-residence and fellowship recipients.

The three-year grant comes from the New York-based Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, whose funding priorities include higher education, and arts and cultural heritage projects.

“This project has the potential to affect Native American art 50 years down the road, 100 years down the road, beyond our immediate effect,” said Lara Evans, IAIA’s associate academic dean, by helping to ensure that contemporary Native artists from the past to the present aren’t forgotten by future generations.

“This should have a long-term impact on the field, which is exciting,” she said.

Whether the center would be in a new building, how much it would cost, what kind of staffing it would need and other details are still unknown. School officials note that the funding is for planning expenses, meaning it will go toward paying staff and a consulting firm to explore how the project should move forward, possibly with a fundraising campaign.

Evans, archivist Ryan Flahive and other MoCNA staffers helped get the project going. To them, it is primarily about bringing together research offerings that IAIA already has in a way that makes them easier to use.

In 2010, the museum’s art collection moved from limited space at the downtown museum on Cathedral Place to a 6,700-square-foot space in IAIA’s Science and Technology Building on the school campus in south Santa Fe.

The building now houses about 8,500 contemporary Native art pieces dating back from about 1930 to present day. Many of the artists who created the works have ties to IAIA.

Walking around the collection last week, Lomahaftewa-Singer and Flahive pointed out pieces by such well-known artists as Dan Namingha, Charlene Teters, T.C. Cannon and Kevin Red Star.

With this larger, more accessible space, Lomahaftewa-Singer said, the number of outside researchers requesting to study the collection saw monumental growth. She went from receiving requests once or twice a year to once or twice a week. She said pieces from the collection are lent out 20-25 times a year nowadays, compared to the one to two annually prior to the move south.

The visitors also often want to examine Flahive’s archive, he said, which is housed in the IAIA Library across campus. Flahive estimates he has 400 cubic feet of processed records. His backlog, he said, is triple that size.

Besides 7,500 biographical artist files that he said former IAIA museum director Chuck Dailey began collecting in the 1970s, Flahive’s office also holds other archival records, including images and film, audio files, old scrapbooks, drawing pads and more. A new center would allow the archive to have a designated reading area where scholars can go through the records instead of having to use the library.

Researchers often have to make separate appointments to work with the art collection and the archives. Flahive described the plans for a single center for both resources as a chance to “de-silo” research work.

“This is going to force our hand to put a lot of really important services in one place,” said Flahive. “Whether it be training graduate students in handling art, or hiring a Native scholar to write an article on an artist. Publication is a big part of what we want to do. We want to have a journal. We want to be able to have these scholars print something for us, to bring light to a collection, to bring light to an artist that needs help in terms of visibility.”

“And also teach,” Lomahaftewa-Singer added. She hopes that having better research facilities means more scholars would stick around to work with students.

“Sometimes, they (outside scholars) come, they study, then they take everything they have from us and they take off. And I think it’s an opportunity that these students miss out on.”

A dedicated space also would make IAIA an “automatic” magnet for any collection or archival record donations, IAIA spokesperson Eric Davis added.

The grant will also pay to kickstart a new, three-month scholarly fellowship program starting later this year that Flahive described as a “pilot program” for what could be operated at a new research center. Evans, who is working on putting that fellowship together, said the first set of fellows will be brought to campus by invitation. No one has been selected yet. As the strategic planning for the center moves forward, she said, a formal application process will be created.

She said IAIA wants to work with scholars who have projects, such as master’s and doctoral theses, which could be “enhanced” by the resources in the archives and the museum collection.

“It’s an experiment to find out how we can best support scholarly work on contemporary Native art,” said Evans.

The scholars will receive funds for housing, travel and research expenses, and a $13,000 stipend, a total of roughly $18,000. She said the school plans to continue the fellowship following the three-year grant cycle, though the format and scale will likely expand.

IAIA is still a young, growing school, said Flahive.

“We’re still developing, we’ve had some growing pains,” he said. “This just continues the trajectory that we’ve been on. We’ve been growing consistently in terms of our visibility and what we mean to this community, I think the research center will keep us moving forward as being a leader.”