In 1965, Institute of American Indian Arts officials commissioned Italian architect Paolo Soleri to build an outdoor amphitheater intended for the growing Native performing arts scene. Though humble in size, the Paolo Soleri Amphitheater is inspired in its design of earth-cast concrete shaped to frame the moon and sun. Since its completion, it has been used for everything from big-name rock concerts to IAIA and Santa Fe Indian School graduation ceremonies. On June 7 on an Albuquerque radio station, SFIS Superintendent Everett Chavez confirmed rumors that Paolo is slated for destruction.
Here are some reactions:
Most outstanding memory of Paolo Soleri:
[I remember] the commitment of two groups working together: IAIA with [then IAIA President] Lloyd Kiva New’s guidance and the people of the Cosanti Foundation engaged in this unusual task, the Santa Fe ‘carved’ theater.
Feelings about its demolition:
I am willing to do anything to support the preservation and renovation of the theater.
What I would do with the space:
I support efforts to fundraise to provide an endowment for the renovation and maintenance of the theater so it could continue to be a cultural resource all year round, for both the residents of Santa Fe and the Santa Fe Indian School community.
Of course [I’ve attended] a lot of the great shows there: BB King, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson. On another level, we had so many important events and speakers from all the major pueblos here. It brought people together. It was somewhat of a playground for us. We’d go and play instruments, playwrights would go there, some would recite poetry and different things like that. It’s just really a monument to education and the arts, and I look at it as a real gift to students.
Feelings on demolition:
I feel disheartened. I understand the demolition of the rest of the property due to cost and asbestos. I understand their sovereign nation status. On the other hand, I really think there’s something that should be held onto: that’s the Paolo Soleri, which wasn’t part of boarding school memories that weren’t so great and the treatment of Native people in the ’20s. Paolo Soleri is a symbol of the new understanding and support of arts and culture, a new vanguard of working together with old and new.
What I would do:
I think we should contact the artists who’ve played there and set up a fund with support from the local community so the school doesn’t have to bear the cost. I understand the main focus is education, not upkeep of an aging building.
The first show that I ever did there was the Indigo Girls, and it had rained a bunch and it was a very difficult day for their crew and it was a difficult day production wise… Then the show happened. For an artist who is used to playing up on stage and looking out over the crowd, at Paolo, it’s such a steep bowl that the audience is really right there wrapped right around them. When the Indigo Girls came off stage, they said it was their favorite show of the whole tour. That to me is the magic of Paolo Soleri: It’s not an easy place, not an easy venue to produce, but it’s a great venue to see a show and a great venue for artists to perform, a unique venue.
Feelings on demolition:
I think it’s deeply sad. It’s incredibly shortsighted of the Indian School. I think that while they inherited that building and it was never anything they built or wanted, they were happy to have it when they made hundreds of thousands of dollars on it in the ’80s and ’90s…I do think there is a responsibility on them in having a cultural and architectural icon like that on their campus to at least give the community the opportunity to try and raise money to save it.
What I would do:
I would love to see a nonprofit organization formed to take on the Paolo, leasing it from the Indian School for an agreed upon amount. The nonprofit would be responsible for maintenance and booking, running it like an outdoor summer performing arts center.