Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA)

Grantee:  Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA)
Location:  Santa Fe, N.M.
Award:  Mobilizing the Community Through the Arts
Discipline:  Mescalero Water Tank Documentation
Web Site:

The Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) is regarded as the foremost Native arts educational institution in the country. It offers four-year degrees in Studio Arts, Visual Communication, Creative Writing and Museum Studies. Funding for the Mescalero Water Tank Project supported an education-based cultural preservation project in which IAIA worked in collaboration with the Mescalero Apache community. The Institute’s staff worked with Apache youth to document nearly forgotten water tanks used by Apache “cowboys” during the area’s mid-20th century heyday of cattle ranching. Known as “cowboy graffiti”, these markings have now been preserved as artifacts.

The project was successful in preserving memories of a time of cultural significance in the history of the tribe. The insight of “cowboy graffiti” on the tanks also provided invaluable artistic and cultural training for the students. In an environment that has produced a significant reduction in local education services, this project awakened and enhanced the tribal youth’s archival skills.

As more and more of the water tank cowboy graffiti is being destroyed every year, the timeliness of this project was compelling. The writings and drawings produced during this project constituted a part of the historical record of the people of the Mescalero Apache reservation. In small capsules, names, events and drawings now depict the way of life from that era. The earliest cowboy graffiti mark recorded was dated 1931 and there were several post-millennial markings uncovered. This “salvage” project’s importance increases as more contemporary graffiti is spray painted on the water tanks covering more of the underlying images and markings. This collaboration fostered mentorship, educational outreach into tribal communities and a cultural link between Apache youth and IAIA.

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