IAIA - Institute of American Indian Arts

IAIA Honors Distinguished Alumni During 2013 Commencement

Santa Fe, NM | Apr 19, 2013 –

Continuing to fulfill its mission to empower creativity and leadership in Native Arts and cultures through higher education, the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) will honor two of the most successful American Indian artists and authors at its 2013 commencement.

The Institute, which is celebrating 50 years, will bestow an honorary doctorate on artist and alumnus Tony Abeyta (Navajo).  The campus’ graduating class of 48 students has chosen poet, author, musician and alumna Joy Harjo (Muscogee Creek) to deliver the commencement address at 11 a.m. May 10.

First attending the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Maine, Abeyta then came to IAIA in 1986 and graduated with an A.F.A. He attended various art schools in France and Italy and then received a B.F.A. from the Maryland Institute College of Art. In 2002, he received an M.F.A. from New York University. Exploring different mediums, Abeyta is also known for incorporating colorful contemporary work ranging from charcoal drawings, large-scale oil and sand paintings, and abstract mixed-media pieces. His pieces are housed in collections throughout the nation, including the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, the Southwest Museum, the Heard Museum and the Montclaire Art Museum.

“My father came to Santa Fe Indian School in 1936 when it was a boarding school. My two sisters attended the Institute of American Indian Arts on the old campus in the ’70s. Unfortunately, all of them have passed. Each one was inspired and part of the legacy of what has become a refined and prominent Indian art institute here in New Mexico, one I am proud to have attended,” Abeyta said. “Much later I became a student there, then an alumnus, then an adjunct professor and now act as co-chair on their foundation board.

“On behalf of my entire family, many mentors, instructors, fellow students and my own passion to create, I am proud to receive this honorary doctorate from IAIA in their honor,” he said. “Without their encouragement or direction, I might not have pursued a career in art. This is an award to remember them all by and a reminder to keep learning.”

IAIA President Robert Martin said both Abeyta and Harjo are examples of what IAIA’s visionaries sought to create long ago — revolutionary artists pushing innovation and imagination in the contemporary Native arts.



“They are renown artists who are exemplary role models for our graduates and provide inspiration for all of us,” he said. “For the past 50 years, IAIA has been encouraging courageous expressions in both art and life.”

Joy Harjo ©Wire Image Services

At 16, Harjo (Mvskoke/Creek) enrolled at IAIA to study painting and theatre, and graduated in 1968. In 1976, she received a bachelor’s degree with an emphasis in creative writing from the University of New Mexico. She later moved to Iowa and graduated with a master of fine arts from the University of Iowa in 1978. She has published seven books of poetry, including How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems; The Woman Who Fell From the Sky; and She Had Some Horses (W.W. Norton & Company). She has received several awards, including the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas, 1998 Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Award, and the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America.

Additionally, Harjo is also known for her music. She has released four award-winning CD’s of original music. In 2009, she won a Native American Music Award (NAMMY) for Best Female Artist of the Year for Winding Through the Milky Way.

In addition to these distinguished guests, the Institute will also honor Upton Ethelbah III, who is the class of 2013’s valedictorian. Ethelbah (Santa Clara Pueblo/Hispanic/White Mountain Apache) will graduate with a B.F.A. in New Media Arts in graphic and interactive design, and a certificate in Business and Entrepreneurship. He is a member of the Alpha Chi Collegiate Honor Society and has interned at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. In 2006, he won the AIR Interactive Peoples’ Choice Award for web design accessibility at Austin’s prestigious SXSW festival and was named “Local Hero” gig poster designer in Hyperactive Music Magazine. He currently is the creative director and lead designer at Unity Design, a freelance company he founded in 1999 in Austin, where he creates logos, brand identities, marketing materials and websites. Ethelbah plans to intern with Wieden+Kennedy advertising agency this summer, then attend graduate school next fall at Central St. Martins College of Arts and Design in London, England.

The public is welcome to attend the 2013 commencement.  Offering degrees in studio arts, creative writing, new media arts, Indigenous liberal studies, and museum studies, IAIA is the only college in the nation dedicated to the study of contemporary Native arts.  It is the only college in New Mexico with National Association of Schools of Art and Design accreditation. The school serves more than 400 Native and non-Native American college students from across the nation, and is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges. The Institute is also kicking off its new low-residency MFA program in Creative Writing this summer.

The school will stream the commencement ceremony live online May 10 starting at 11 a.m. Please check back at www.iaia.edu for web streaming information. To view the commencement schedule or a campus map, click here.

                                                                                         # # #

Contact Information

Kim Baca, 505-424-2351 or kbaca@iaia.edu