San Francisco Art Institute, home to one of Rivera's most famous murals, closes

The San Francisco Art Institute, home to one of Mexican artist Diego Rivera's most famous murals, is closing its doors for good. And now everyone is wondering what will become of the work.

The San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI), the private art school famous for being the site of one of Mexican artist Diego Rivera’s most famous murals, The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City, executed in just a month in May 1931 on a commission from the institute’s president at the time, William Gerstle, is closing its doors for good. The school closed due to financial problems after no less than 151 years of uninterrupted operation: in fact, it had been founded in 1871 by a group of artists, writers and local personalities to educate young people in art and to promote local artists, as well as to establish a museum that would preserve local art records.

“After many years of austerity measures, challenging fundraising campaigns, and various merger and acquisition negotiations by a committed board and administration,” the institute said in a note, “the San Francisco Art Institute is no longer financially viable and has ceased its degree programs effective July 15, 2022. SFAI will remain a nonprofit organization to protect its name, archives and legacy.”

To honor its history, now the institute is establishing a nonprofit foundation to protect its name, history and archives, where an abundance of primary source material on American art, culture and art education from the 19th to 21st centuries is preserved, especially on certain movements such as Abstract Expressionism, Bay Area Figuration, Color Field, California Funk and the Mission School. “San Francisco’s reputation for freedom of expression, cultural confluences, and for being a hotbed of art,” the institute clarifies in the note, is inseparable from the nonconformist existence of the San Francisco Art Institute.“ Thus concludes the institute, ”Although the l San Francisco Art Institute will not continue in its current form, its spirit, embodied in its global alumni community and the new Foundation for its archives, is unbroken and immortal."

“After years of planning and immeasurable sacrifice on the part of our students, faculty and staff,” says Board Chair Lonnie Graham, “it is deeply regrettable that we are now faced with this current outcome. The Board’s goal was to preserve the legacy of one of the last remaining fine arts-only institutions while promoting the course of innovative educational practices that occur through reciprocity between students and faculty.” The entire Board and administration “encourage community members to stay connected through SF Artists Alumni, an independent global arts community, and is eternally grateful to our hardworking, dedicated and exceptionally talented students, faculty, staff and alumni.”

The question on everyone’s mind now is: what will become of the Diego Rivera mural? Indeed, the fate of the work is uncertain. In 2021, the institution had even tried to sell it to put its coffers in order, but the deal fell through due to protests, following which the mural was declared a historic landmark, “historical monument,” thus a protected property. The work adorns one of the walls of the Chestnut Street campus: the building is formally owned by the University of California, but the work is instead owned by the San Francisco Art Institute, which pays a rent to the university. So, in the event of a breach of contract, the institute could lose ownership of the mural. At the moment, the San Francisco Art Institute has only let it know that it is working with local and international donor communities to protect the work.

Pictured is a detail of the Diego Rivera mural.

San Francisco Art Institute, home to one of Rivera's most famous murals, closes
San Francisco Art Institute, home to one of Rivera's most famous murals, closes