San Francisco Art Institute to merge with University of San Francisco

Leaders of the financially-struggling San Francisco Art Institute said they have formalized plans to integrate operations and academic programs with the University of San Francisco, a private Jesuit university, in a process they say will ultimately drive the university to acquire the 150-year-old man. art school.

In a press release, the art school said on Wednesday that the heads of the two institutions had signed a formal letter of intent to begin the process of exploring exactly how to merge their undergraduate arts programs. and graduate studies. The deal has been approved by the directors of each institution, according to the statement, and calls for a period of due diligence before the acquisition takes place.

The resulting program will be known as the San Francisco Art Institute at the University of San Francisco, according to the release. Under the agreement, the University of San Francisco will take over the historic buildings, art and film collections, and assets of the art school. These assets include everything on the art school’s Chestnut Street campus, home to a Diego Rivera Gallery that houses a treasured mural.

Officials said they expect their review to be completed in time for integrated operations to begin this fall.

“After months of confrontation, negotiation, triumph, strategy, gratitude, hope and elation, we find ourselves joining another organization that realizes the depth of our contribution and the confluence of our ideals,” said Lonnie Graham, chairman of the board of the San Francisco Art Institute. said in a letter posted on the school’s website. “This merger will help ensure the sustainability of our school and the contribution of our students.

News of the impending acquisition brings a potential solution to what have been years of financial turmoil for the Art Institute, which bills itself as one of the oldest and most prestigious schools of contemporary art in the country.

Faced with a mountain of debt after costly expansions, declining enrollment and challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, the school – which has seen Ansel Adams, Kathryn Bigelow, Annie Leibovitz and Mark Rothko teach and study within its walls – suspended classes, stopped accepting students and faced the prospect of closing in 2020.

The University of California board of trustees helped save the school when it stepped in to buy out its $19.7 million debt to a private bank. But even with that help, school officials came under fire when some considered selling a beloved Diego Rivera mural – worth $50 million – to help balance the budget.

Amid the turmoil, Pam Rorke Levy, then president of the Art Institute, resigned in January 2021. Graham, a photographer, took over as president.

In the school’s press release about the upcoming merger, officials said the San Francisco Art Institute and the University of San Francisco had conversations about potentially integrating their programming and operations “to various times over the past decade.

The due diligence period will include a review of finances, physical assets of the art school’s Chestnut Street campus, and the logistics surrounding the academic accreditation process, among other matters. Officials said current San Francisco Institute of Art students completing their degree programs at the University of San Francisco will receive the same academic services, opportunities and support as students at the University of San Francisco. Francisco traditionally receive.

In a letter to his campus community, Paul J. Fitzgerald, president of the University of San Francisco, said that the institutions’ combined efforts during the due diligence period “provide us with a greater ability to build a extraordinary and transformative social justice”. – an arts education oriented within our liberal arts and Jesuit tradition that will benefit the Bay Area, the nation, and the world.

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