Paolo So-DrearyA revered music venue goes silent
“It’s sitting there, collecting snow right now,” Santa Fe Indian School Superintendent Everett Chavez says of the Paolo Soleri Amphitheater. Santa Fe’s first snowstorm of the season has just hit, and Chavez sounds stressed-out and, quite frankly, aggravated. “We’re having problems with it right now,” he adds. “We had to dig up some water lines that were busting, and we had to cap off some of the infrastructure to it.”
In the early 1960s, the Institute of American Indian Arts commissioned Italian architect Paolo Soleri to design the amphitheater. IAIA has since relocated off the grounds of the former Bureau of Indian Affairs Indian School, which Congress transferred to the All Indian Pueblo Council in 2000.
Last summer, Santa Fe collectively freaked out when school officials announced they were shutting down public access to the beloved music venue. Soleri himself issued a public statement, noting that he would do “anything to support the preservation and renovation of the theater” [SFR Talk, June 16: “Paolo Politic”]. The dramatic response was due in part to the city’s affection for the amphitheater itself, which for decades has hosted musical shows ranging from the Indigo Girls to Modest Mouse to the last show at the venue, Lyle Lovett, at the end of July.
School officials countered with information on Paolo’s mounting expenses, and their plans for further development of the educational resources on the campus [Cover story, July 21: “Redemption Song”].
Reaction to Paolo’s closing also was fueled by public outrage over the July 2008 demolishing of many of the historic buildings on campus, including a brick schoolhouse that had been built in 1890.
On July 15, US Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall, D-NM, wrote a letter to the All Indian Pueblo Council and Chavez, noting the importance of the amphitheater to Santa Fe’s history and culture. Within that letter, the two senators defer respect to the council’s authority on its own lands, but write, “in our opinion it would be a significant loss to the community if the amphitheater is not retained”—and offer their assistance should the council decide to preserve the amphitheater.
According to Bingaman’s spokeswoman, Jude McCartin, no meeting has yet taken place between the senators and officials from the council or the Santa Fe Indian School. But, she notes in an email, “we’re working on it.”
Earlier this year, there also was a growing movement interested in building a new Paolo Soleri elsewhere in Santa Fe, Fan Man Productions’ Jamie Lenfestey says. Lenfestey had brought music shows to Paolo since 1992 and worked on the venue’s final show this past July.
That movement lost steam when people began focusing instead on saving the existing structure on the grounds of the Santa Fe Indian School as an architectural treasure and a piece of American history.
Even if the council receives federal funding and agrees to refurbish the amphitheater and save the building itself, one problem remains: School officials do not want visitors and concertgoers on the campus of the school, where students in grades seven through 12 live and attend classes. In other words, even if the structure itself is salvaged and saved, the public still may not be able to attend concerts there.
But Lenfestey would like to see a return to the idea of a brand new “living, breathing outdoor performing arts space” for the city.” And by supporting a new Paolo Soleri, school officials could assist those in Santa Fe who are seeking a performing arts space.
“It would be great to have them come on board,” he says. “We could study the existing Paolo to build a new Paolo. They could allow the architectural renovation of the existing Paolo, but also lend a helping hand in helping Santa Fe build a new performing arts space.”
CONSIPIRACY THEORY: There actually was a well-tread conspiracy theory regarding Paolo’s destruction: that a casino was planned for the school grounds. However, under the federal law that transferred the Indian School land to the All Indian Pueblo Council, the land can only be used for “education and cultural” purposes,” and gaming is prohibited.