Last week, the San Francisco Art Institute, one of the oldest and most esteemed art schools in America, issued a letter that hinted at a bleak future. Seeing “no clear path forward,” the school said it was planning to make layoffs, and because a potential merger with an unnamed party never came to pass, the fall semester would be canceled unless there was a financial windfall. The school is now to remain closed indefinitely.
With news spreading rapidly that the nation’s first art school west of the Mississippi might soon close, many in the Bay Area art community have gone into a period of mourning. And now, in a new letter decrying the school’s potential closure, more than 60 curators, academics, dealers, and museum trustees, many of them based in California, have come together to offer a show of support for the school.
“That it might cease to exist has caused shock and dismay across the art world, especially here in the Bay Area,” the letter reads. “Rather than simply commiserate with one another, arts professionals from institutions large and small have come together to publicly state that there are many people who care deeply about this and what it means for our community.”
Pam Rorke Levy, chair of the SFAI board, said in a statement to ARTnews, “We know that the sentiments expressed in this letter are widely shared in the arts community and beyond. Over the past 149 years, the San Francisco Art Institute has survived crises large and small, never wavering in its commitment to the training and education of artists and art scholars—but the uncertainties and financial hardships resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic are threatening to take us under.” She encouraged readers of the letter to donate to the school’s emergency fund on its website.
The statement is signed by a number of important members of the art world in Northern California, including San Francisco Museum of Modern Art director Neal Benezra, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco contemporary art curator Claudia Schmuckli, dealer Rena Bransten, University of California Berkeley professor Julia Bryan-Wilson, and 500 Capp Street founder Carlie Wilmans. The letter is signed as well by major figures from Europe and Asia, among them Hou Hanru, director of the MAXXI museum in Rome, and Clara Kim, a senior curator at Tate Modern in London.
“We have faith that the school will survive, although it won’t be the same as before,” the letter reads. “We imagine a new model can be found that will ensure sustainability. We are stating emphatically that this is a terrible development for the values we cherish in San Francisco, and we must move forward together and thoughtfully to anticipate and address the repercussions of this crisis.”