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San Francisco Art Institute

San Francisco Art Institute
Motto "Thinking. Making. Learning."
"Accept No Limitations"
Established 1871
Type Private
Chairman Cynthia Plevin
President Charles Desmarais
Vice-president Rachel Schreiber
Location San Francisco, California,  United States
Campus Urban
4 acres (1.6 ha)
Colors Gray and Clear
Designated: 1977[1]
Reference No. 85

San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) is a school of higher education in contemporary art with the main campus in the Russian Hill district of San Francisco, California. Its graduate center is in the Dogpatch neighborhood. The private, non-profit institution is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD), and is a member of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD). SFAI was founded in 1871, and is one of the oldest art schools in the United States and the oldest west of the Mississippi River.


  • Academic programs 1
    • School of Studio Practice 1.1
    • School of Interdisciplinary Studies 1.2
  • History 2
    • Photography 2.1
    • Painting 2.2
    • Music 2.3
    • Housing 2.4
  • Exhibitions and Public Programs 3
    • Adaline Kent Award 3.1
  • Notable current faculty 4
  • Notable former faculty 5
  • Notable alumni and former students 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Academic programs

SFAI offers Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts, Bachelor of Fine Arts, and Master of Fine Arts degrees and Post-Baccalaureate certificates. Like many institutions of higher-education, it also awards honorary PhDs. As of 2013 Charles Desmarais serves as SFAI's President, with Rachel Schreiber as the Dean and Vice President of Academic Affairs.

School of Studio Practice

The School of Studio Practice consists of the traditional departments of:

School of Interdisciplinary Studies

Founded in 2006, SFAI's School of Interdisciplinary Studies offers BA and MA degrees in History and Theory of Contemporary Art, Urban Studies, and Exhibition and Museum Studies (MA only). It also houses four research and teaching centers:

  1. Public Practice
  2. Media Culture
  3. Art+Science
  4. Word, Text, and Image


The roof terrace of the San Francisco Art Institute offers a scenic view over the city.

Founded in 1871 by artists, writers, and community leaders who possessed a cultural vision for the West, the San Francisco Art Association (SFAA) became a locus for artists and thinkers. Three years later, SFAA launched The California School of Design, which was renamed California School of Fine Arts (CSFA) in 1916 and then the San Francisco Art Institute in 1961. During its first 60 years, influential artists associated with the school included Diego Rivera arrived in San Francisco to paint a mural, The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City, at the school’s new campus on Chestnut Street.

From 1893 to 1906 the school occupied the former Mark Hopkins mansion at the top of Nob Hill. The fire following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed both the mansion and the school. A year later, the school was rebuilt on the site of the old mansion and renamed the San Francisco Institute of Art. In 1916 the SFAA merged with the San Francisco Society of Artists and assumed directorship of the San Francisco Museum of Art, then located in the Palace of Fine Arts, a relic of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. The school was renamed the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA). In 1926 the school moved to its present location at 800 Chestnut Street in San Francisco.

After World War II, the school became a nucleus for Marcel Duchamp, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Gregory Bateson. The object of the roundtable was to expose “hidden assumptions” and to frame new questions about art.

By the early 1950s, San Francisco’s North Beach was the West Coast center of the Beat Movement, and music, poetry, and discourse were an intrinsic part of artists’ lives. Collage artist Jess Collins renounced a career as a plutonium developer and enrolled at SFAI as a painting student. In 1953 he and his partner, poet Robert Duncan, along with painter Harry Jacobus, started the King Ubu Gallery, an important alternative space for art, poetry, and music. A distinctly Californian modern art soon emerged that fused abstraction, figuration, narrative, and jazz. SFAI faculty David Park, Elmer Bischoff, James Weeks, James Kelly,[2] Frank Lobdell,[3] and Richard Diebenkorn were now the leaders of the Bay Area Figurative Movement, informed by their experience of seeing local museum exhibitions of work by Edvard Munch, Max Beckmann, Edgar Degas, and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Students at the school, including William T. Wiley, Robert Hudson, William Allan, Joan Brown, Manuel Neri, Carlos Villa, and Wally Hedrick, continued the investigation of new ideas and new materials, becoming the core of the Funk art Movement. In 1961 the school took its modern name, the San Francisco Art Institute.

Renamed the San Francisco Art Institute in 1961, SFAI refuted the distinction between fine and applied arts. SFAI was at the forefront of recognizing an expanded vocabulary of art making that was a hybrid of many practices including performance, conceptual art, new media, graphic arts, typography, and political and social documentary. Among the students in the early to mid-1960s were artists Gunvor Nelson, Howard Fried, Paul Kos, Angela Davis, Kathy Acker, Robert Colescott, and many other influential artists and writers. Among the students were a number of performance artists and musicians, including Karen Finley, whose performances challenged notions of femininity and political power, and Prairie Prince and Michael Cotten, who presented their first performance as the Tubes in the SFAI lecture hall, and became pioneers in the field of music video. The school became a hub for the Punk music scene, with bands such as the Mutants, the Avengers, and Romeo Void all started by SFAI students. Technology also became part of art practice: faculty Sharon Grace’s Send/Receive project used satellite communications to create an interactive transcontinental performance, while Survival Research Laboratory, founded by student Mark Pauline, began staging large-scale outdoor performances of ritualized interactions among machines, robots, and pyrotechnics.

Since the 1990s, the studio and classroom have become increasingly connected to the world via public art and community actions. As students at SFAI, Barry McGee, Aaron Noble, and Rigo 23, among others, were part of the movement known as the Mission School, taking their graffiti-inspired art to the streets and walls of the city. Faculty and students have created site-specific projects in locations from the San Francisco waterfront (Ann Chamberlain and Walter Hood’s monument to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade) to the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana, Mexico (a sculpture by artist Pedro Reyes and SFAI students for the U.S. Department of State’s Art in Embassies program). Organizations like Artists’ Television Access (ATA) and Root Division, founded by alumni, and SFAI’s City Studio program engage and educate local communities and cultivate a vital artistic ecosystem.[4]

In 1969, a new addition to the building by Paffard Keatinge-Clay added 22,500 sq ft (2,090 m2) studio space, a large theater/lecture hall, outdoor amphitheater, galleries, and cafe.[5]


Founded by Ansel Adams in 1945, the Photography Department was the first program of its kind dedicated to exploring photography as a fine art medium. Adams designed the school's darkrooms and attracted photographers for the original faculty, including Dorothea Lange, Imogen Cunningham, Minor White, and Morley Baer, who became Head of the Department after White's departure in 1953.


Throughout the SFAI Painting Department's history, it has been home to celebrated artists such as Richard Diebenkorn, William T. Wiley, Jay DeFeo, Barry McGee, Toba Khedoori, and Kehinde Wiley among others and was central to movements such as Abstract Expressionism, Bay Area Figuration, California Funk, and the Mission School.


In 1966, the SFAI organized an exhibition of rock and roll posters.

Among the many artist musicians who studied at SFAI are Jerry Garcia, guitarist in Grateful Dead; Dave Getz, drummer for Big Brother and the Holding Company and Country Joe and the Fish; Prairie Prince of the The Tubes; Debora Iyall of Romeo Void; Freddy (aka Fritz) of the Mutants; Penelope Houston of the Avengers, Courtney Love, actress and rock musician;[6] Jonathan Holland of Tussle; Devendra Banhart.


SFAI maintained a small student housing program in the MacArthur neighborhood of the Presidio of San Francisco from 2002 to 2007. Students were housed primarily in semi-furnished townhouse apartments built in the 1960s with space for approximately 45 students. During the 2006/2007 academic year, some apartments in the Baker Beach neighborhood were used with space for an additional 20 students. In August 2007, SFAI transitioned to a more traditional student housing model and converted a 1907 hotel at 140 Mason Street in Union Square to an unnamed residence hall. The Union Square property housed up to 125 students. In Summer 2010, SFAI moved its housing program to two locations in Nob Hill: Sutter Hall at 717 Sutter Street, and Abby Hall at 630 Geary Street. Prior to 2002, students typically found housing on their own with some guidance from the institution, though at one time SFAI owned a small number of apartment units near its Russian Hill campus.

Exhibitions and Public Programs

Students are given direct access to exhibitions, lectures, symposia, films, and other unique interdisciplinary events. An integral part of campus life, such events connect students to the larger community of artists, art, and contemporary ideas. The Walter and McBean Galleries (on the 800 Chestnut Street campus) house exhibitions, workshops, and other alternative and experimental avenues for presenting work by international contemporary artists. Students also have the opportunity to show their own work in a number of spots on SFAI's two campuses, including the Diego Rivera Gallery.[7]

Adaline Kent Award

Former board member (1947–1957), Adaline Kent was a sculptor and alumni of the school. Upon her death in 1957, she bequeathed $10,000 for the establishment of an annual award for a promising California Artist.[8] Each year since 1957 the prize was awarded by the San Francisco Art Institute Artists' Committee. Winners included Ron Nagle (1978),[9] Wally Hedrick (1985),[10] Mildred Howard (1991), Clare Rojas (2004),[11] and as the final award, Scott Williams (artist)[12] (2005).

Notable current faculty

Notable former faculty

Notable alumni and former students

Index of San Francisco Art Institute Alumni

Some alumni of the institute[20] include:

See also


  1. ^ "City of San Francisco Designated Landmarks". City of San Francisco. Retrieved 2012-10-21. 
  2. ^ San Francisco Chronicle, James Kelly Abstract Expressionist, obituary
  3. ^ Lobdell obituary
  4. ^ sfai history | San Francisco Art Institute
  5. ^ History of SFAI- San Francisco Art Institute
  6. ^ Entertainment Weekly, 1994: The Power of Love
  7. ^ "Exhibitions and Public Programs." San Francisco Art Institute website
  8. ^ "Adeline Kent, 1924" San Francisco Art Institute website
  9. ^ Amazon page Ron Nagle catalog
  10. ^ Amazon page for Wally Hedrick catalog
  11. ^ Paule Anglim website on Clare Rojas
  12. ^ Stencil Archive website announcing Scott Williams Adaline Kent Award Exhibition at SFAI
  13. ^ SFAI. "Dale Carrico Faculty Profile". Retrieved 2014-01-16. 
  14. ^ SFAI. "SFAI Announces Faculty Appointments". Retrieved 2013-07-27. 
  15. ^ Hiro Narita. "Faculty Profile". Retrieved 2014-05-23. 
  16. ^
  17. ^ Wally Hedrick
  18. ^ Bruce Nauman
  19. ^ Uniondocs. "Sticking with caveh zahedi". Retrieved 2014-01-16. 
  20. ^ Official alumni list

External links

  • San Francisco Art Institute official website
  • CineSource Magazine - Local Film Schools: A Plethora of Riches

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