San Francisco Art Institute files for bankruptcy

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The San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) has filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy after years of mounting financial troubles, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The filing may precipitate the liquidation of over $65m worth of assets accrued since the school’s inception in 1871, including equipment, property and an expansive archive that features artworks by famous alumni like Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange.

After announcing in 2020 that SFAI had graduated its final class, a last-ditch bid from the University of San Francisco to acquire the struggling school fell through, leaving the institution no choice but to shutter its doors. In the last few years, the school undertook fundraising efforts, re-opened enrollment, and sold almost $20m in debt to the University of California Regents to avoid foreclosure, but all to no avail.

SFAI’s campus in the city’s Russian Hill neighbourhood is home to Diego Rivera’s mural The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City (1931), a masterpiece that now finds itself at risk. Efforts to safeguard the mural and other gems in the school’s collection led to the creation of the SFAI Legacy Foundation, an independent non-profit operated by former SFAI librarians Jeff Gunderson and Becky Alexander. The foundation has recently moved the school’s archives to a new location in the city’s Financial District.

A bankruptcy court filing earlier this month signed by SFAI’s interim chief operating officer Mark Kushner and board chair Lonnie Graham revealed that the school has somewhere between 100 and 199 creditors, “likely” including former faculty and staff, who may be entitled to severance down the line.

“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,” San Francisco supervisor Aaron Peskin, who represents the municipal district that includes SFAI’s campus, wrote in a text message to the San Francisco Standard. “I remain committed to the long-term preservation of the landmark Diego Rivera murals and ensuring they are publicly accessible.”

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