In November of 2008, SFR published documents that appeared to be development plans for the school’s Cerrillos Road frontage. Those plans indicated significant commercial development with enough parking to support large retail, resort or museum facilities, but left intact the school’s long-standing master plan—a plan that has never suggested demolition of the Paolo Soleri facility.
But the recent creation of an SFIS student group on Facebook—dedicated to saving the outdoor amphitheater—has stoked fears that SFIS administrators perceive the facility as more of a liability than an asset. Local music promoter Jamie Lenfestey of Fan Man Productions then told The Santa Fe New Mexican that SFIS Chief Financial Officer Jesse Medina characterized the facility as a “money pit” and told him the school’s intention is to “shut down” the facility this August.
The school has remained mum on the issue—as it did all through the demolition of its historic buildings—and SFR’s calls to SFIS Superintendent Everett Chavez were not returned.
In the meantime, the “Save the Santa Fe Indian School Paolo Soleri” Facebook page has become a liturgy of people’s memories of concerts over the decades:
Widespread Panic, Suzanne Vega, The Ramones, Debbie Harry, Stevie Ray Vaughan, BB King, Carlos Santana, Ani DiFranco, David Byrne, Moby, Ziggy Marley, Los Lobos, Indigo Girls, Elvis Costello, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, De La Soul, Lyle Lovett, Gypsy Kings, Cowboy Junkies, Tracy Chapman, Cake—the list goes on and on.
My own favorite memory of Paolo Soleri, sap that I am, is a hyped-up Santa Fe audience pulling Leonard Cohen out for five encores. But for SFIS students and alumni, the amphitheater holds equal weight as a graduation venue. It’s a symbolic location that marks a meaningful rite of passage or, in the school’s own words, the development of the “students’ potential to meet obligations to themselves and their communities.” The students and alumni behind the Facebook page have consistently called for people to refrain from passing judgment on the actions of the school and have instead pleaded for positive support toward the preservation of an important landmark. Students and supporters of preserving the Paolo Soleri Amphitheater have pledged to wear white at the Friday, May 28 graduation ceremony as a form of silent protest.
The amphitheater was originally constructed in the late 1960s as a venue for contemporary Native American theater projects when the then-Institute for American Indian Arts was running the campus (1962-1980). The visionary Italian-American architect, Paolo Soleri, worked with students and staff—including the late Allan Houser—to craft a structure appropriate to the Institute’s needs. When IAIA (now IAIA’s College of Contemporary Native Arts) moved—or was booted out, depending on who you talk to—it had no choice but to surrender the building. The college’s president, Dr. Robert Martin, was out of the country at press time and unable to comment on the significance of the amphitheater to the institution’s history.
Paolo Soleri’s archives and works are primarily monitored by the Arizona-based Cosanti Foundation. Cosanti Public Relations Coordinator Erin Jeffries says the foundation does track concerns about the status and fate of the amphitheater.
“Last year, when Michael Franti apparently announced the imminent demise of the building, we confirmed with school officials that it was not true,” Jeffries says. The current rumors, however, remain unconfirmed. “Obviously the amphitheater is an important part of Paolo Soleri’s work and we have a lot of pride in it,” she says. “If we thought something were going to happen to it, we’d be happy to support a campaign to preserve it.”
Lenfestey is currently laying the groundwork for such a plan—he announced to the Facebook group his desire to structure a lease to provide SFIS enough compensation from music events to ensure the amphitheater’s survival and maintenance.
Santa Fe New Mexican writer Rob DeWalt none-too-subtly suggested on Facebook that Lenfestey has a history of feeding fears about the venue as a way of hyping his summer shows (which this year include Lyle Lovett and Modest Mouse, among others). Whatever the case, with a new crop of Santa Fe promoters coming into their own—such as Johnny Pink and Tim Franke (who can share righteous credit for presenting Modest Mouse)—it’s easy to make a case that a revitalized Paolo Soleri Amphitheater deserves a musical renaissance as much as it deserves its place in the history of SFIS and IAIA’s College of Contemporary Native Arts.
Santa Feans were riled when SFIS unceremoniously and secretively demolished much of its old campus, but that’s nothing compared to the broader community history and architectural diversity that would be offended by an attack on the Paolo Soleri Amphitheater.
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