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The cover of a program for a performing arts event.

The program from the 1966 Festival of the Performing Arts of the American Indian. Photo courtesy of Rosalie Jones

In June 1966, a $29,000 grant supported the Festival of the Performing Arts of the American Indian produced by the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA). The performance of Sipapu, named after an Indian religious myth, drew national attention to the cultural and historical significance of Native Americans. The performance ran for four days in the 5,000-seat Carter Barron Amphitheatre in Washington, DC. Seventy-five Native American performers representing more than 31 tribes participated.

A true cross-disciplinary effort, the festival showcased the talent of staff and students from nearly every field of study at the Institute of American Indian Arts. IAIA director Lloyd Kiva New (Cherokee) headed up the production, while IAIA drama instructor Rolland Meinholtz served as artistic director. The show premiered modern dance choreography by Rosalie Jones (Pembina Chippewa) set to the music of composer and pianist Louis Ballard (Quapaw/Cherokee). Neil Parsons (Blackfoot) designed the set. Drawing from the stories of Coyote, a common Indian symbol, the performance narrative focused on the ways of nature and the Native American religious myth of the evolution of man. The festival showcased both the range and diversity of Native performing arts.

At a time when Native arts in particular were not widely accessible to the general public, the 1966 event provided key exposure and support for Native American arts, and IAIA in particular. In her memoir, choreographer Rosalie Jones wrote, “…the production Sipapu was a complete success, both culturally and financially.”

Today, the Institute of American Indian Arts remains the only institution of higher learning devoted to Native American arts. Degree programs include those in studio arts, cinematic arts and technology, creative writing, museum studies, and Indigenous liberal studies. In 2022, IAIA celebrates its 60th anniversary.