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University of San Francisco Plans Takeover of Troubled SF Art Institute, Including Historic Buildings and Collections

Written by Ida MojadadPublished Feb. 02, 2022 • 10:16am

The University of San Francisco (USF) announced plans Wednesday to acquire the San Francisco Art Institute, bringing together two venerable city institutions at a time when private higher-education is facing stiff challenges.

USF, a private Jesuit institution, said it would take possession of the Art Institute, including all of its historical buildings and its art and film collection, for an undisclosed amount. Key assets include the school’s Chestnut campus in Russian Hill (pictured) and a Diego Rivera mural, titled "The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City."

"We are committed to transparency and openness in our collaboration with faculty, staff, and students, and look forward to imagining the design of this new program with our communities,” said USF President Rev. Paul J. Fitzgerald. “Additionally, we are very aware of how vital SFAI is to the Bay Area’s cultural, artistic, and philanthropic communities, and we anticipate productive conversations with these essential partners.”

Founded in 1855, USF counts itself as the oldest university in the city, a heritage that dovetails nicely with the rich history of the Art Institute. Founded in 1871, the SFAI claims to be the oldest art school west of the Mississippi and has educated or employed numerous American artistic masters and pop culture heroes, including photographers Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange and Annie Leibovitz; abstract expressionist pioneers Richard Diebenkorn and David Park; and San Francisco tattoo artist Ed Hardy.

As The Standard reported last week, many local universities have had a tough time over the course of the pandemic, and the Art Institute is no exception. In March 2020, it said it would not enroll new students for the following fall semester in the face of budget shortfalls and declining enrollment. It raised funds, received a Paycheck Protection Program loan and had the University of California Regents buy the school’s $19.7 million debt later that year. By fall 2021, students were able to enroll once again, the Examiner reported.

Though the fine print still needs to be hashed out, if the acquisition goes through the integrated program would be known as San Francisco Art Institute at the University of San Francisco.

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