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.
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SFAI offers Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts, Bachelor of Fine Arts, and Master of Fine Arts degrees and Post-Baccalaureate certificates. 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:
- New Genres
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:
- Public Practice
- Media Culture
- Word, Text, and Image
The San Francisco Art Institute began in 1871 with the formation of the San Francisco Art Association, which was a small but very influential group of artists, writers, and community leaders, most notably B.P. Avery, Edward Bosque, Thomas Hill, S.W. Shaw, J.B. Wandesforde and Virgil Macey Williams, who came together to promote regional art and artists, and establish a school and museum to further and preserve what they believed was a new and distinct artistic tradition, which had developed in the relative cultural isolation and unique landscape of the American West.
By 1874 the SFAA had 700 regular members and 100 life members, and had raised sufficient funds and the necessary momentum to launch an art school, which was named the California School of Design (CSD). Painter Virgil Macy Williams, who had spent nearly 10-years studying with master painters in Italy and had taught at Harvard College before coming to San Francisco, became the school's first director and painting instructorâ"postions he held until his sudden death in 1886. During Williams' tenure, the CSD developed a national reputation and amassed a significant collection of early California and western fine art as the foundation collection for a planned museum.
In 1893, Edward F. Searles donated the Hopkins Mansion, which was one of the most palacial and elaborate Victorian mansions ever built, to the University of California in trust for the SFAA for "instruction in and illustration of the fine arts, music and literature." Named the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art, it became San Francisco's first fine art and cultural center, and housed both the CSD's campus and SFAA's art collection. Through this new affiliation, students of the University of California, Berkeley were able to enroll in classes at the CSD.
In 1906, the devastating fire following the earthquake destroyed the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art building, and the CSD and SFAA facilities, records and art collection. At the time, the replacement value of the building and its contents was estimated at $2,573,000. Yet, the combined amount of numerous insurance policies yeilded less than $100,000 for rebuilding. Nevertheless, within a year, the SFAA built a new but comparratively modest campus in the same location, and adapted the name 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 at the Palace of Fine Arts, which was created to host the 1915 World's Fair, Panama-Pacific International Exposition. In addition, the school was renamed the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA) to better reflect its mission to promote, develop and preserve regional art and culture. In 1926, the school moved to its present location at 800 Chestnut Street, which remains the school's main campus. In 1930, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera was hired to paint, The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City, which is located in the student-directed art gallery.
During its first 60 years, influential artists associated with the school included Eadweard Muybridge, photographer and pioneer of motion graphics; Maynard Dixon, painter of San Franciscoâs labor movement and of the landscape of the West; Henry Kiyama, whose Four Immigrants Manga was the first graphic novel published in the U.S.; Sargent Claude Johnson, one of the first African-American artists from California to achieve a national reputation; Louise Dahl-Wolfe, an innovative photographer whose work for Harperâs Bazaar in the 1930s defined a new American style of âenvironmentalâ fashion photography; Gutzon Borglum, the creator of the large-scale public sculpture known as Mt. Rushmore; and numerous others.
After World War II, the school became a nucleus for Abstract Expressionism, with faculty including Clyfford Still, Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko, David Park, Elmer Bischoff, and Clay Spohn. Although painting and sculpture were the dominant mediums for many years, photography had also been among the course offerings. In 1946, Ansel Adams and Minor White established the first fine art photography department, with Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston, and Dorothea Lange among its instructors. In 1947, distinguished filmmaker Sydney Peterson began the first film courses at CSFA. In this spirit of advancement, in 1949 CSFA Director Douglas MacAgy organized an international conference, The Western Roundtable on Modern Art, which included Marcel Duchamp, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Gregory Bateson. The object of the roundtable was to expose âhidden assumptionsâ and to frame new questions about art.
By the early 1950s, San Franciscoâs North Beach was the West Coast center of the Beat Movement, and music, poetry, and discourse were an intrinsic part of artistsâ 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, Frank Lobdell, 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 Ronald Davis, Robert Graham, Forrest Myers, Leo Valledor, Michael Heizer, Ronnie Landfield, Peter Reginato, Gary Stephan, and John Duff and in the late '60s Annie Leibovitz, who would soon begin photographing for Rolling Stone magazine; Paul McCarthy, well known for his performance and sculpture works; and Charles Bigelow, who would be among the first typographers to design fonts for computers. Alumni Ruth-Marion Baruch and Pirkle Jones were documenting the early days of the Black Panther Party in northern California. Installation art, video, music, and social activism continued to inform much of the work of faculty and students in the 1970s and â80s. The faculty during this period included George Kuchar, 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 Graceâs 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 Hoodâs 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 Stateâs Art in Embassies program). Organizations like Artistsâ Television Access (ATA) and Root Division, founded by alumni, and SFAIâs City Studio program engage and educate local communities and cultivate a vital artistic ecosystem.
In 1969, a new addition to the building by Paffard Keatinge-Clay added 22,500Â sqÂ ft (2,090Â m2) studio space, a large theater/lecture hall, outdoor amphitheater, galleries, and cafe.
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, Elmer Bischoff, Oliver Arms, David Park, Joan Brown, Toba Khedoori, Roy De Forest, Inez Storer 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; 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.
Adaline Kent Award
Former board member (1947â"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. Each year since 1957 the prize was awarded by the San Francisco Art Institute Artists' Committee. Winners included Ron Nagle (1978), Wally Hedrick (1985), Mildred Howard (1991), Clare Rojas (2004), and as the final award, Scott Williams (artist) (2005).
Notable current faculty
Notable former faculty
- Index of San Francisco Art Institute Alumni
- List of San Francisco Designated Landmarks
- San Francisco Art Institute official website
- CineSource Magazine - Local Film Schools: A Plethora of Riches