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The Paolo Soleri’s Last Hurrah

Finally after all the speculation, the rumor is confirmed. This morning the superintendent of the Santa Fe Indian School, Everett Chavez, publicly announced (on, of all places, 94 Rock’s Morning Show ) that the Paolo Soleri amphitheater will be destroyed as part of the school’s “aggressive educational agenda.” (You can find an audio link to the interview at the top of this page.)

Cutting through the typical talk radio banter, Mr. Chavez sounded like a thoughtful and intelligent man. The Paolo Soleri costs $95,000 to $99,000 a year to maintain, he said, and it would cost $578,000 to bring it up to code, which would include compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Last week’s concert, he said, took in only $5,000.

After the show, he added, there were beer bottles all over the place, and one of the 19 Pueblo Governors remarked about the miasma of marijuana smoke — a “huge cloud of illegal stuff.” That, Mr. Chavez said, is not the kind of behavior they want to instill in their students. A better place for concerts, he insisted more than once, is the Indian casinos.

All of that begs the question, finally asked by one of the DJs: But why do you have to bulldoze the place? Why not find someone to take over and upgrade the venue? Rather than giving a straight answer, Mr. Chavez played the spiritual card.

“Our people are taught not to get attached to material things,” he said. He remembered when the kiva at his pueblo had to be replaced because the population had grown. And there was the time that his father (like his grandparents, an Indian School alum) refused to give him an old pickup truck he loved. It was traded in for a new one instead.

Likewise the Paolo Soleri now must be traded in for — for what? Mr. Chavez wouldn’t say.

He added that there will be three or four more events before the demolition, including a tribute to Stewart Udall, the former Secretary of Interior and friend of the school, who died this spring. How politically astute. Mr. Udall was, of course, the father of Senator Tom Udall, one of the few people with the clout to put a stop to this — and to demand a resolution of the legal questions still surrounding the earlier destruction of the old campus.

Instead the Senator will be there at the Paolo Soleri for a last hurrah, smiling and shaking hands, pretending that being friends with a few powerful Indian leaders is the same as being a friend to the people they rule.

George Johnson
The Santa Fe Review