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Mission and History

“To empower creativity and leadership in Native Arts and cultures through higher education, life-long learning, and outreach.” At IAIA our mission is more than a statement, it is the on-going objective of all that we do and all of our highly talented and dedicated faculty and staff.


Our vision is to be the premier educational institution for Native arts and cultures. As such, we dedicate ourselves, our curriculum, our facilities, and our energies to preparing our students for success and leadership which reflects Native cultures and values. We accomplish this through culturally-based programs that fulfill the physical, social, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual needs of our students. Through innovative teaching, critical inquiry and intergenerational learning, we offer the highest quality educational programs designed to instruct and inspire. As a 1994 land-grant institution, we provide training and outreach that promotes tribal sovereignty and self-determination.

Above all, we are a national institute of excellence and an example of all that can be accomplished in furthering, supporting and nurturing contemporary Native arts through exhibitions, research, indigenous exchange, and other educational programs which build and sustain our core values.

We believe in:

  • Collaboration, the joining together for student success
  • Excellence, by upholding high standards for students, faculty, and staff
  • Creativity, by encouraging fearless expression in arts and life
  • Respect, expressed by fostering an understanding of cultures, perspectives, and identities
  • Integrity, which grows from demanding honesty, accountability and responsibility to oneself and the world at large.

Creativity is Our Tradition

The Institute of American Indian Arts (formally known as the Institute of American Indian and Alaska Native Culture and Arts Development) is one of 37 tribal colleges located in the United States. IAIA is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). IAIA is a member of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium.

IAIA was established in 1962 during the administration of President John F. Kennedy and opened on the campus of the Indian School in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was first a high school formed under the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs. Under the leadership of Dr. George Boyce, Lloyd Kiva New, and others, the Institute embodied a bold and innovative approach to arts education. In 1975, IAIA became a two-year college offering associate degrees in Studio Arts, Creative Writing, and Museum Studies.

In 1992, IAIA relocated its Museum of Contemporary Native Arts to downtown Santa Fe. As the nation’s leading exhibition facility for contemporary art by Indigenous artists, the Museum also houses the National Collection of Contemporary Native American Art.

In August 2000, IAIA moved its college to a permanent 140-acre campus. The Institute expanded its academic programs to include baccalaureate degrees, introducing a BFA in Creative Writing, Studio Arts, and New Media Arts, as well as a BA in Museum Studies and Indigenous Liberal Studies (in 2006). The new campus made room for several state of the art buildings such as the library, an academic and administrative center, a residence center and family housing, a student life center and a cultural learning center.

In the fall of 2010, IAIA added over 60,000 square feet of building space to its campus with the Center for Lifelong Education Conference Center, the science and technology building and the sculpture and foundry complex. The Center for Lifelong Education Conference Center houses the campus café, space for conferences and meeting, the student life offices and the campus bookstore. The science and technology building features a digital dome theater, additional new media labs, conservation/science labs, and faculty offices. It also houses the world class Museum of Contemporary Native Arts’ permanent collection. The sculpture and foundry building features studio space for wood/stone carving, as well as metal sculpting and casting capabilities.

Many of the country’s most illustrious contemporary American Indian artists, poets, writers, musicians and cultural leaders are IAIA alumni, while others are affiliated with IAIA as faculty, staff, visiting artists, and scholars. Among these are Dan Namingha (Tewa- Hopi), Fritz Scholder (Luiseño), David Bradley (Chippewa/Ojibway), Sherwin Bitsui (Diné), James Thomas Stevens (Akwesasne Mohawk), Allison Hedge Coke (Métis), Doug Hyde (Nez Perce), Allan Houser (Apache), Charlene Teters (Spokane), Nancy Mithlo (Chiricahua Apache), Linda Lomahaftewa (Hopi/Choctaw), Karita Coffey (Comanche), Jessie Ryker Crawford (Minnesota Chippewa Tribe), Mateo Romero (Cochiti Pueblo), Tony Abeyta (Navajo), Charles Loloma (Hopi), Otellie Loloma (Hopi), Earl Biss (Crow), T.C. Cannon (Kiowa/ Caddo), Darren Vigil Gray (Jicarilla Apache/Kiowa Apache), Kevin Red Star (Crow), and Joy Harjo (Mvskoke/Creek).

In 2013, IAIA entered a new era when it began offering its first graduate program, a low-residency MFA in Creative Writing.

IAIA became one of three Congressionally chartered colleges in the United States in 1986, and was charged with the study, preservation and dissemination of traditional and contemporary expressions of Native American language, literature, history, oral traditions, and the visual and performing arts.