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Arts & Entertainment

Iconic Diego Rivera mural the focus of $200K grant to San Francisco Art Institute

After finding some saving grace with the University of San Francisco earlier this year to stave off closure, the San Francisco Art Institute’s fortunes appear to be turning around.

Today, the venerated art school, widely considered the oldest such institution west of the Mississippi, announced that it received a $200,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation to support scholarship, conservation and public programming around the “crown jewel” of its art collection—The Making of a Fresco, Showing the Building of a City by famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. 

According to SFAI’s website, the fresco was commissioned during the 1930 to 1931 tenure of SFAI President William Gerstle. Rivera, with artistic soulmate Frida Kahlo, notably traveled to San Francisco to complete the artwork, which depicts the very engineers and laborers who helped him make the fresco. He finished the piece in just one month—May 1931. 

The grant may be perfectly timed as just over a year ago SFAI considered selling the artwork, valued at $50 million, to plug a gaping hole in its operating budget. 

“We are so deeply grateful and honored to receive this gift from the Mellon Foundation,” wrote Maria Elena González, Faculty Trustee and Chair of SFAI’s Sculpture/Ceramics Department.

Art historian and museum specialist Zoya Kocurwill lead the preservation and public programs as the Diego Rivera Fresco Program Manager. 

“The funding from the Mellon Foundation will allow SFAI to be able to preserve and maintain this major work by Diego Rivera,” wrote Kocur in an email to The Standard, noting that the support from the Mellon Foundation will expand resources for public programming for local schools and communities, including gallery tours led by SFAI students as well as the creation of onsite and online gallery materials and curriculum about the mural. The funding will also help SFAI assess the conservation needs of the fresco now and into the future and aid in the digitization and cataloging of archival materials related to the fresco. 

“This will provide much wider access to valuable information for scholars, students and artists who are interested in Rivera's work, including its history and the impact it continues to have on artists of today,” wrote Kocur. 

The $200,000 grant will also support the creation of a Diego Rivera Project Advisory Committee that will involve “prominent Latinx scholars” and advisors from community-based arts organizations, museums, K-12 schools, artists, art students and governmental and international partners, notes the release. 

“My vision is that this fresco will remain a public resource for all San Franciscans, and people from all over California and the world, for decades to come,” Kocur wrote, “and that our programming will provide ever-expanding access and familiarity with this treasured work of art.” 

Christina Campodonico can be reached at