The Institute of Andean Studies was the vision of John H. Rowe (1918–2004), who founded it in 1960. Per the articles of incorporation, the primary purpose of the Institute is

“…to organize, sponsor, and assist field, museum and library research and study in archaeology, history, linguistics, ethnology and biology of the native peoples of Colombia, and of that area of South America which was formerly the Inca Empire, and which presently comprises northwestern Argentina, northern Chile, and the countries of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia; to publish a journal and issue other sundry publications reporting the results of such research; to sponsor meetings and conferences for the purpose of discussion of results of such research and the problems pertaining thereto…”

The Institute furthers these ends by holding its Annual Meeting in early January in Berkeley, California, to share and discuss research, and by publishing a journal, Ñawpa Pacha, on the Andean past. The Institute currently does not directly organize or fund research projects. It has no connection to the University of California or any other government agency. The Institute is a volunteer organization with no paid staff, officers, or directors.

Our logo graced the cover of Ñawpa Pacha for decades, originally above the Quechua words "Takyaq Sonqo." It represents a motif on the famous Inka tocapu tunic now at Dumbarton Oaks. John Rowe wrote that "I thought it looked a little bit like a sun appearing through a cleft. The motto, Takyaq sonqo, is from an entry in González Holguín’s dictionary; he said it meant ‘steadfast,’ and I figured that was what we needed to be."

The Institute of Andean Studies is an independent, not-for-profit 501(c)(3) corporation recognized by the State of California and the Internal Revenue Service, EIN 94-6103089. Gifts and bequests to the Institute are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.