Paolo Soleri Ampitheatre in Santa Fe, NM

Why The Paolo Must Stay Standing

The Paolo Soleri Amphitheater stands eccentric in a world of increasingly generic architecture.  The late Lloyd Kiva New, artist and educator, worked with Soleri in 1965 to design the Amphitheater and build it with help from students on the Santa Fe Indian Schools Cerrillos Road campus. The Paolo, as it is called for short, shares the legacy of these two far-sighted men.

Lloyd Kiva New nurtured Native American arts as a cosmopolitan visionary, a rare type in our age of opportunists and reactionaries. The late Stewart Udall, who died this March at 90, and will be memorialized at the Paolo Soleri on June 20th, admired Kiva New and the way he represented Native American arts. Said Udall in Native Peoples Magazine, in 2001:  “Who would have thought 40 years ago that there would be a beautiful  Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall in Washington? Thats a measure of how far weve come in this  country.”

Soleri, whose best-known vision is the project Arcosanti in the Arizona desert, drew upon the past to design the future in the Ampitheater, planning it for the Indian School theater department as an interpretation of the Elizabethan stage.  “We were hoping actors would not just use the stage, but also the area above it, and thats why we designed the bridge and other platforms ….with action taking place on different levels…,”  was how Soleri described the design process in a Cosanti Foundation press release made public last week.

To justify the buildings demolition, SFIS Superintendent Everett Chavez has cited costs of maintenance and renovation, along with an issue of “educational sovereignty.” Yet some of the most ardent supporters of the Ampitheater, like activist Frances Abeyta, consider those contentions utterly baseless.

What is true is that the Paolo has been woefully under-utilized. As Bill King, a former SFIS faculty member, wrote in the SAnta Fe New Mexican, “No one seems to understand that the facility was meant as an instrument to present Native American theater, not as a concert or  lecture hall, and that when functioning at full capacity, the structure comes alive and we understand the artistic and creative equity that this facility houses.”

Of course thousands of concert-goers and performers have felt the Paolo fuse special intimacy between audience and player.  The Paolo should live up to its potential as a vital and viable performance space.  The Amphitheater could be architecturally modified with a retractable roof, to make the structure useable year-round in all types of weather.  Addition of the roof, restrooms and performance support areas would avail SFIS students and the community of the Paolo during the winter  as well as in warm weather.  Immediately the ampitheaters utility and value will increase.

Then the Santa Fe Indian School would have a lasting asset.   The preservation of the collaborative legacy of Soleri, a significant architect, and of  Kiva New,  educator, would exemplify the stewardship of history and endure as an object.

Soleri recently wrote, “Imagination was at the origin of the theater, imagination is essential now. ”

What else do we need?  I believe the word is, “angels”.

Write us your thoughts about this post. Play nice.
  1. A major fundraising effort is the only way out – non-SFIS Santa Feans can’t say it must keep standing if we can’t contribute to making it viable for the campus.

  2. David Licata says:

    Nice article. And thanks for using my footage.

    “Imagination is essential now.” And unfortunately, in short supply. I’m not sure people appreciate architectural daring of the amphitheater sort.

    It’s like that joke: an architect designs a masterpiece house and shows the plans to the client. “That’s great,” the client says,”but I want more closets.”

    I think most people want more…

  3. Mark Baker says:

    Love this article! The first sentence says everything. How can we lose inspirational/ experimental architecture in a time where architecture is losing out to metal buildings, foam cornices and faux stone? Spread the word, awareness to the general public will help the cause!