The 151-year-old San Francisco Art Institute has closed forever after failed attempts to save the financially ailing school

After several merger attempts, the historic but financially troubled San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI), which operated in the Bay Area for 151 years, closed for good this past Friday, July 15.

The final blow came on the same day when the University of San Francisco (USF) pulled out of a deal to take over the failed institution that had been planned since January.

in one Joint Statement Released last Friday, USF President Paul J. Fitzgerald and Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Chinyere Oparah said they “no longer seek an agreement with the SFAI,” citing concerns about the art school’s financial status, prospects for the enrollment of students and the deferred maintenance of its campus.

“USF informed SFAI leadership that we would not enter into a definitive agreement with SFAI due to business risks that could adversely impact students, faculty and employees of USF,” said Fitzgerald and Oparah.

In a statement of its own, the SFAI board of trustees said that school “no longer financially viable.”

The death of this venerable institution is a loss for the entire art world, especially for SFAI’s friends, colleagues and SFAI artists,” she added.

While no new students will be admitted, SFAI will continue to operate on a much smaller scale as a non-profit organization Organization charged with protecting the school’s name, archives and legacy.

“Few contractors” will be hired to “manage security, regulatory, legal and financial affairs and ensure students and alumni can access their academic records,” the board said.

Diego Rivera’s mural at the San Francisco Art Institute. Image courtesy of the San Francisco Art Institute.

Still, much remains unclear, including the fate of SFAI’s prized 1931 fresco by Diego Rivera. SFAI owns the mural, although the Chestnut Street campus on which it resides is now owned by the University of California. According to the Board, “If SFAI defaults on payments or loses the lease on the building, it will lose ownership of the fresco.”

The group said it is “actively working with local and international donor communities to protect the fresco,” which has been estimated at up to $50 million.

In late 2020, SFAI leadership sent a letter to staff and faculty advising that this was the case consider selling the Rivera mural to ease the school’s eight-figure debt. The news drew a broad backlash from the school community, prompting the San Francisco board of directors to do the same designates the image as a historic landmark only weeks later.

Founded in 1871, SFAI boasts a roster of alumni and alumni that rivals any art school in the world. Among those who were once members of the institution are Ansel Adams, Dara Birnbaum, Kathryn Bigelow, Imogen Cunningham, Angela Davis, Dorothea Lange, Annie Leibovitz, Catherine Opie, Mark Rothko, and Kehinde Wiley.

In 2020, SFAI announced plans to discontinue its degree programs – a decision that surprised many thought the historical institution would never reach that point. Amid an outcry from alumni and faculty, the The board voted a month later to keep the school openalbeit in a limited capacity, and launched a fundraising campaign to “reinvent the school’s business model.”

It was around this time that the school first entered talks about an acquisition by USF, but the originally planned merger fell through.

The two institutions revisited the idea this year when USF signed a memorandum of understanding to “explore the integration of operations and academic programs in the arts to nurture the next generation of artists.”

Although that deal was also dissolved, Fitzgerald and Oparah said USF plans to open in the fall of 2023 and 2023, respectively.

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