Save the Soleri Santa Fe Theater!

West

Santa Fe authorities and the All Indian Pueblo Council are battling over the fate of the "Paolo," as Soleri's 1964 amphitheater is known. (Photography by Raffaele Elba )

An earth-formed concrete amphitheater designed by Paolo Soleri may be demolished later this summer. One of only a handful of structures built by Soleri, the open-air theater (known as the “Paolo”) is on the campus of the Santa Fe Indian School, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The school commissioned Soleri to design the theater in 1964, and though it has been used for graduations and concerts since that time, the school now believes that it costs too much to maintain, and says it brings drunken crowds onto the campus during events.

Built using student labor from the school, the structure was designed to “frame the sun and the moon,” and operate like an Elizabethan theater with bridges and ramps that allow performers to access various levels above, below, and behind the stage. A dramatically arched form over the stage covers the principal performance area, and according to Soleri was created of “trenched earth that captures the shape and consistency of the earth itself.”

On June 11, New Mexico’s Cultural Properties Review Committee urged the school to rethink its plans to raze the structure, and the Santa Fe City Council has also called for the theater’s salvation. Soleri, who will turn 91 on June 21, has been rallying admirers of the earthen structure, noting in a statement, “I am willing to do anything to support the preservation of the theater.” His Cosanti Foundation is working with a variety of organizations to prevent its demolition, as well as raising funds to help the theater continue to serve the Santa Fe Indian School students and the broader Santa Fe community.

Update: Soleri advocate Conrad Skinner sends this note:

The Paolo received a reprieve July 19 when Everett Chavez, SFIS Superintendent responded positively to an offer of help by New Mexico Senators Udall and Bingaman.  A core of preservation advocates, including Indian School alumni, have worked out the petition linked below in the belief that we must not sit on our hands but urge the stakeholders and the purse-holders to join in establishing funding and a working relationship to ensure this unique venue’s future. Funding is crucial;  the Paolo lies on sovereign Indian land where most monies come through Federal appropriations.

Please read our online petition and, if you agree with our position, add your signature and send the link to your friends, colleagues and students.

The space opens onto the wide New Mexico sky.

Behind the stage.

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