After 8 years serving as the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture’s Director, Della Warrior (Otoe-Missouria) is retiring this August, and the museum’s Deputy Director Matthew J. Martinez will step in as acting director. Since SFR staffers are pretty big MIAC fans, we caught up with Warrior before she hangs it up.
Why is now the right time to retire?
There’s no ideal time. There are always exciting things to do. I had planned to retire last year, but then it was the pandemic, and I certainly didn’t want to leave during the pandemic. Now that we’re coming out of that and things are moving again, I’m sad to leave because it’s exciting work and I love it, but I have to recognize I’m not as young as I used to be. I’m actually past the age of retirement, so it’s just trying to recognize it’s a demanding job, I’ve enjoyed it, but it’s time for me to slow down.
Will you stay in the museum field? In Santa Fe? What’s next?
I’ll stay in Santa Fe for a couple of years, but I do plan to move back to be near my home community in Oklahoma. That’s what I’m planning to do, anyway, but it’s a major move, so it’s going to take awhile.
I came to work in the end of 1993 at the [Institute of American Indian Arts] in the development office—initially, I was the tribal liaison, then director of development, then interim president at the end of 1997, and I was [president] until 2005. Then I retired from that and did some consulting work for three or four years before I decided to apply for this position. I was encouraged to apply for it.
I’m not from a museum background, but because of my experience overseeing the museum at IAIA and being the president there, everyone felt I could do the job. I was a little reluctant, but after I got into it, I figured it all out. It’s been an exciting, whirlwind eight years. But you know, I kind of consider myself an entrepreneur—not in a business sense, but in that I always have some project. I’m sure there’s some project I’ll get involved in, but I don’t expect to have a full-time job ever again. I want to enjoy retirement, but I also like to build and create and do things, so I know I’m not going to be bored.
Is there anything from your tenure of which you’re particularly proud?
What I was asked to do by all the committees who hired me was, number one, to do something about the ongoing Here, Now and Always exhibit—to update it, because it had been up for years. I was also asked to increase attendance, to get more Natives into the museum and to generate more money. Those were my marching orders from all the constituent groups at MIAC, and that’s how I built my agenda.
I raised money so we didn’t need to have exhibits up for two years, so we could rotate them annually....You have the same exhibit up for two years; that impacts your attendance. I counted them all up, and we had 30 exhibits in the last eight years. The Here, Now and Always renovation is well under way—they’ve got the plans, the objects have been selected, they’re settling on the cases, the colors of the floors, the graphic design; in February they should start the installation and the exhibit should open in June. I feel good that I brought it this far.
Our attendance has gone up, and I worked closely with the Museum of New Mexico Foundation to raise sizable private dollars as well as grants. And one of my main things was to bring in Native artists or Native scholars to talk about their work; to have programs about Native issues and to educate the public about Native issues. I believe with good leadership now, with Dr. Matthew Martinez [Ohkay Owingeh], it’s in good hands. I’m comfortable with saying goodbye sadly.