Investor Group in Talks to Buy San Francisco Art Institute Campus

A group of philanthropists and arts patrons are said to be looking into purchasing the recently bankrupted San Francisco Art Institute’s two-acre Russian Hill campus with the intention of reopening the school there. The campus is one of two belonging to SFAI, and is home to a $50 million Diego Rivera mural, The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City, 1931, which the group has said they will keep in place. The school’s second campus, Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture, a $15 million expansion described by SFist as “spectacularly unwise,” was completed in 2017 and is currently not of interest to the investor group.

As first reported last week by the San Francisco Business Times, the investors include Laurene Powell Jobs, noted philanthropist and the widow of Apple cofounder Steve Jobs; Brenda Way, founder of ODC/Dance Company; and David Stull, president and CEO of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

“[The project] is in its nascent stage but tremendously exciting,” Stull told the San Francisco Chronicle. “We are working to see that the Art Institute is preserved for aspiring artists to advance their work . . . It will also serve as a resource for established artists to come together as well as a center for community and the arts.”

The Observer reports that Aaron Peskin, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, earlier this week gave the project a boost by introducing legislation that would allow an unaccredited institution to operate on the old SFAI grounds. “Everyone is very hopeful that this acquisition will come to fruition and allow this 150-year-old institution to continue,” he told the publication.

SFAI filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy this past April, following a three-year death spiral that saw the school—which at various points counted among its faculty Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still—struggle first with the Covid-19 crisis and then with the outrage of the general public after it proposed selling the Rivera mural to raise funds. In July 2022, after the University of San Francisco, which had been contemplating a merger with the historic arts institution, deemed that plan too risky and decided to open its own art department instead, SFAI announced that it would shutter for good.


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