NEWS RELEASE                      

For Immediate Release




Eric Davis, Marketing & Communications Director

505.424.2351, or 

Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) 
Approved to Offer AFA and B FA
Degrees in Performing Arts
Program Returns to the Curriculum for the First Time Since 1990

Santa Fe: December 15, 2018.

On Monday, December 2, 2018, The Higher Learning Commission, one of IAIA's accrediting organizations, approved the school's application to launch AFA and BFA Programs in Performing Arts. The change is effective immediately, and students may begin to apply for the degree programs beginning with the Spring 2019 semester.

Performing Arts has been a part of IAIA for more than 50 years. Theater, music, and dance courses were first taught at IAIA in 1964, just two years after its founding as a high school. Lloyd Kiva New (Cherokee), a founder and an early director of the Institute, composed his "Credo for an American Indian Theatre" in 1969 which made the case that American Indian theater was a distinct form of American theater.  

Students Working in the Black Box Theatre

Once IAIA became an institution of higher education in 1975, courses continued, but Performing Arts was never a degree program. Unfortunately, in 1996, after Congress cut IAIA's budget by one-third, the program was discontinued. Serious interest in the program re-emerged when a performing arts building was included in the Campus Master Plan of 2010. Faculty, staff, alumni, and the Board of Trustees all participated in public meetings and focus groups to develop the plan. A full-time faculty member was hired in fall semester 2014 to help with planning. He taught several classes and developed a minor in Performing Arts. A new faculty member, Dr. Sheila Rocha, (Tarasco/Pure'pecha) was hired for the Fall 2017 semester when the first individual left the institution; and a second faculty member, Dr. Jonah Winn-Lenetsky, came on board in Spring 2018. The new Performing Arts and Fitness Center opened in November 2017. Classes and productions have been held in the building starting in Spring 2018.

IAIA Student Performance

Dr. Sheila Rocha received her PhD from the University of  Arizona in American Indian Studies. She has been on the Humanities faculty of Oglala Lakota Tribal College and has also taught at the University of Arizona and the University of Nebraska-Omaha in multiple facets of American Indian studies. She served as multicultural director at the Omaha Theater Company for over fifteen years and as a master artist-educator with both the Lied Center of Nebraska and Nebraska Arts Council . S he founded multiple theater ensembles, performed in music and spoken word groups, and is a multi-genre published author and poet with numerous produced scripts. Her research in the Harlem Renaissance and Meso-Indian cultures resulted in several touring productions. She is also a professional storyteller and has performed one-woman shows in the US. Dr. Rocha will serve as department chair and teach two courses per semester exclusively in the Performing Arts program. 

Sheila Rocha

Dr. Jonah Winn-Lenetsky, Assistant Professor of Performing Arts, is originally from Santa Fe. He holds a PhD and Master's Degree in Theatre from the University of Minnesota. His dissertation titled Common Ground looks at the intersections of race, gender, sexuality and class in the street performance work of activist groups in the UK and Palestine. Jonah has published on this and other topics in scholarly journals. His recent work explores threats to the environment and how communities can use performance to conceptualize and address ecosystems. He is also an actor and director whose plays have been produced throughout the US and internationally. Most recently his collaborative productions have examined community-based cultural issues in Northern New Mexico with "Voices from Israel and Palestine", which looked at the similarities and differences between life in the Middle-East and in the Southwest and "12 Switches", a performance that celebrated lowrider culture. These were performed at Northern New Mexico College, Warehouse 21, and The New Mexico History Museum. He taught at Northern New Mexico CollegeSanta Fe University of Arts and Design, and Santa Fe Community College before starting full-time at IAIA during spring semester 2018

Jonah Winn-Lenetsky

The Performing Arts program will be offered in the recently-completed Performing Arts and Fitness Center. The building provides state of the art technical equipment and performance and lab/learning space to adequately support a strong BFA program. It will also be attractive to visiting artists and performance ensembles who will want to come to campus and contribute to our program.

IndigieFemme Performance

IAIA's Performing Arts program will be the only degree-granting theater program at any Tribal College in the country, and the only theater program in the country with an indigenous perspective.  

Associate Academic Dean Dr. Lara M. Evans  (Cherokee), observed:  "Santa Fe has a diverse Performing Arts scene, and the Black Box Theatre and Performing Arts degree program at IAIA will further expand what Santa Fe has to offer. Even more important, the effects will ripple outward to other communities. There has long been a need for support for performing artists from Native communities and the wider world is recognizing need for greater diversity in film, stage, dance, and music."
Department Chair Dr.  Sheila Rocha (Tarasco/Pure'pecha) noted: " This is a day of celebration as we usher in the implementation of Indigenous Performing Arts at the Institute of American Indian Arts.  Our newly accredited BFA/AFA degrees will reignite the vision of our predecessors. Lloyd Kiva New (Cherokee), former long-time director and president of the school encouraged a 'broad, humanistic approach to the arts, stressing creative links to the traditional arts but urging students not to be bound by them and to reject stereotypical notions of American Indian art and culture.'  As Chair of the newly formed Performing Arts department, I am elated and honored to see New's vision become a 21st   century reality. This has been a collaborative effort through the foresight of IAIA President Dr. Robert Martin (Cherokee), Dean Charlene Teters (Spokane), and my colleague, Dr. Jonah Winn-Lenetsky -- along with the diligent faculty and staff here at IAIA. And this is just the beginning!"

Assistant Professor Dr.  Jonah Winn-Lenetsky commented: " I am thrilled by the news that IAIA's Performing Arts major has been accredited by the Higher Learning Commission! The fact that we can now offer a Bachelor, or Associates degree in Performing Arts means that our program will be the first one like it in North America. IAIA has always been a leader of Indigenous Performing Arts and thanks to the efforts of numerous people at IAIA, we will now be at the center of Indigenous North American Performance and the only place where you can get a degree that teaches Indigenous traditions, knowledges, and performance practices. Acting, movement and music have formed the basis of ceremonial practices for almost all cultures throughout the world. Performing Arts at IAIA holds the power to introduce students to traditional performance, while also teaching the fundamentals of acting, directing, dance, music and theatrical production. It will give students the tools to find a path into the theatrical, film, dance, or musical professions. I'm proud that I can be a part of this exciting moment and I can't wait to see what the future holds."

IAIA President Dr. Robert Martin (Cherokee) remarked that "a strong demand exists for the program and we believe IAIA is in the strongest position to address that need.  We have built state-of-the-art facilities, recruited well-qualified and committed faculty, and have documented student and Native community interest.  The result is the first accredited performing Arts BFA program in the country taught from a uniquely Native perspective."
To interview Sheila Rocha or any of the Performing Arts faculty, please contact Eric Davis at 505.424.2351 or

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Offering undergraduate degrees in Studio Arts, Creative Writing, Cinematic Arts and Technology, Indigenous Liberal Studies, Museum Studies, and Performing Arts -- an MFA in Creative Writing -- along with certificates in Business and Entrepreneurship, Museum Studies, and Native American Art History -- IAIA is the only college in the nation dedicated to the study of contemporary Native arts. The school serves 495 full time equivalent (FTE) Native and non-Native American college students from across the globe.  IAIA is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission -- and is the only college in New Mexico accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design
About IAIA -- For over 50 years, the Institute of American Indian Arts has played a key role in the direction and shape of Native expression. With an internationally acclaimed college, museum, and tribal support resource through our Land Grant Programs, IAIA is dedicated to the study and advancement of Native arts and cultures -- and committed to student achievement and the preservation and progress of their communities.  Learn more about IAIA and our mission at
The Institute of American Indian Arts Foundation is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization.  To make a donation on-line, please click here -- or call toll free: 1.800.804.6423.