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Arts & Entertainment

San Francisco Art Institute files for bankruptcy

The San Francisco Art Institute | Diana Cheng/Getty Images

The 152-year-old San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI)—a revered local institution known for educating and employing some of the most acclaimed artists in American history—has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the San Francisco Chronicle has reported.

Founded in 1871, the art institute claimed to be the oldest art school west of the Mississippi, but had been in decline for several years. In 2020, responding to budget shortfalls and declining enrollment, the school announced that it would not accept new students for that fall semester.

Despite raising funds, selling $19.7 million in debt to the University of California Regents and opening enrollment back up, the school continued to falter. In February of last year, the University of San Francisco (USF) announced plans to acquire San Francisco Art Institute. But by the summer of 2022, that deal had fallen apart, and the school announced it would shutter.

The SFAI Legacy Foundation + Archive, an independent nonprofit organization comprising a group of community members, archivists, artists, curators and arts advocates dedicated to the art institute, was formed with the aim of raising funds to create a permanent space to house the school’s archives.

San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin—who represents the city's third district, home to the art institute's Russian Hill campus—expressed disappointment at the latest development via text message.

“While it appeared inevitable after USF and SFAI parted ways, it still is a sad ending after 150 storied years that enriched San Francisco and our national arts community," Peskin wrote. "I remain committed to the long-term preservation of the landmark Diego Rivera murals and ensuring they are publicly accessible.”

According to the Chronicle, the bankruptcy filing sets the stage for a liquidation of its assets, estimated at about $65 million. In addition to property and equipment, those assets include works by famous artists—some of whom worked and studied at the school.

During its century-and-half run, the school 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.

The art institute's crown jewel is a 1931 Diego Rivera mural titled "The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City."