The San Francisco Art Institute, one of the oldest and most important art schools in the United States, is set to be acquired by the University of San Francisco. In a joint announcement of the acquisition on Wednesday, the two schools said that they would begin to “explore integrating operations and academic programs in the arts to elevate the next generation of artists.” The financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.
SFAI, which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2021, has over the past few years faced financial tumult and the threat of permanent closure. In April 2020, just after the pandemic-related lockdowns began in the U.S., the school said that it saw “no clear path” toward continuing operations, blaming Covid for exacerbating a financial crisis there. At the time, the school said it had come to an “impasse” in merger negotiations with “two of the Bay Area’s finest institutions of higher learning.” Then the school backpedaled that statement and began allowing students to return in the fall.
Still, SFAI’s future remained bleak. The Boston Private Bank moved to foreclose on the school’s main property, and attempts to bring in money, including a botched attempt to sell a $50 million Diego Rivera mural that was subsequently labeled a landmark, have courted controversy within the local community and among SFAI’s staff and alumni.
Founded in 1871, SFAI has become known for the multitude of notable alumni it has produced, among them painter Kehinde Wiley, filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow, and photographer Annie Leibovitz. Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, and Mark Rothko are among those who have taught at the school.
In Wednesday’s announcement, USF and SFAI said they would initiate a “period of due diligence [that] will include reviewing and assessing finances, the physical assets at SFAI’s Chestnut Street campus on Russian Hill, the process of academic accreditation for the newly created program, and other matters, including employment opportunities.” Current SFAI students will be able to complete their degrees at USF.
“This union would create an innovative confluence of the arts and academics to advance a curriculum that reinforces the value of the arts in changing the world,” said Lonnie Graham, the board chair of SFAI.