The San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI), one of the nation’s oldest and most esteemed art schools, has filed for bankruptcy, the San Francisco Chronicle first reported on Tuesday.
SFAI, whose campus is host to a historic Diego Rivera mural from 1931, had been plagued by financial troubles in the years leading up to the pandemic. It wasn’t until 2020, however, that the school announced it would cease admissions and degree-granting programs due to decreased enrollment and mounting debts.
The school, which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2021, is considered hugely important, not just to the Bay Area scene but nationally. Its alumni include Kehinde Wiley, Joan Brown, Richard Diebenkorn, Enrique Chagoya, Annie Leibovitz, and many more.
This latest maneuver will require the school to liquidate its assets in order to repay hundreds to millions of dollars’ worth of debts. Creditors for the school include private companies and former faculty who were laid off during the pandemic and received severance.
In February 2022, SFAI announced that it had been in discussions to merge with the University of San Francisco. Meanwhile, the San Francisco school’s administration and board members made moves to fundraise in order to keep the institution afloat. A controversial sale of the Rivera mural was considered, drawing the condemnation of many.
The mural had been appraised at an estimated $50 million. In 2021, it was granted landmark status by the city, blocking the planned sale. Officials who designated the status made it so that the mural’s removal has to be approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Last year, SFAI received a $200,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation for its preservation.
The efforts led to $4 million in capital fundraising and the University of California’s Board of Regents purchasing the school’s $19.7 million debt, a deal that effectively made the institution the art school’s landlord. The school held its last graduation ceremony in July 2022 after a deal to merge with the University of San Francisco fell through.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the Rivera mural could potentially be converted into a public gallery.
A representative for SFAI did not immediately respond to ARTnews’s request for comment.