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What The Closure Of The San Francisco Art Institute Means

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Photo of SFAI sign. Credit: Kenny P

Art is the universal language of life, so why do we treat it like trash? And why do cities like San Francisco, a place that has benefitted so immensely from creative expression, allow another piece of the City’s once seemingly indestructible art scene – a conduit for creativity like the San Francisco Art Institute, wither and fade away?

It doesn’t seem fair. How did this even happen? Well, how do you think it happened? It happened because the school couldn’t handle its overwhelming debt. In 2021, KQED reported SFAI was nearly $20 million in the red before the University of California purchased the school’s debt. Strategies to get SFAI back on track were in talks, but ultimately, never materialized.

USF pulled out of the merger and the school had nowhere to turn; this left faculty scrambling to find a job and students searching for a new place to practice their crafts.

Many feared that the school was on its way out, but then a beacon of hope appeared when it was announced USF (the University of San Francisco, not the University of Southern Florida) was finalizing plans to acquire the school and incorporate its programs into the broader USF system. The school wasn’t necessarily returning to its glory days, but it was going to survive. That’s what everyone believed would happen, but unfortunately, that’s not what transpired.

For reasons that are yet to be disclosed, USF pulled out of the merger and the school had nowhere to turn; this left faculty scrambling to find a job and students searching for a new place to practice their crafts. The only information provided as to why the deal was never finalized was that the partnership by USF and SFAI “is no longer financially viable,” according to reports from KRON4 news.

The situation does seem dire, but there are students rallying to save the school. There’s an entire student-led grassroots coalition called Students For Action attempting to raise $25 million to restructure and ultimately save the school from its prolonged insolvency. If you’d like to check out their website CLICK HERE.

I know what some of you are thinking. You’re thinking so what, lots of shit in San Francisco gets closed down, what’s the difference with this?

The difference is legacy.

SFAI has been around since 1871, making it one of the oldest art schools in the country. The school is historically important in ways that are hard to articulate. The font and typeface for the logo of the New Yorker was designed by an SFAI alumnus. Do you understand how fucking legendary that is? I’m an English nerd, if you’re not an English nerd, you may not realize how significant that is; which is okay, but I promise, the New Yorker is important and its logo is iconic.

Here are just a few of the groundbreaking artists who either attended or taught at SFAI:

Ansel Adams
Dorothea Lange
Kathryn Bigelow
Mark Rothko
Angela Davis
George Kuchar
Don Ed Hardy
Kehinde Wiley
Barry McGee

Artists from around the Bay Area and the world have been collectively mourning the likely loss of SFAI, including legends like V. Vale, who recorded a song dedicated to the school. You can list HERE

So what do I propose we do to save SFAI? Why doesn’t San Francisco get involved? If any city in America could afford to save a school in financial distress, it’s San Francisco. If we let this school die, it means there’s nothing safe from closure in San Francisco, no matter how important it may be.

If we have $20k for trashcans, I’m sure we could figure something out.





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Abraham Woodliff - Bay Area Memelord

Abraham Woodliff - Bay Area Memelord

Abraham Woodliff is a San Francisco-based writer, editor and digital content creator known for Bay Area Memes, a local meme page that has amassed nearly 200k followers. His work has appeared in SFGATE, The Bold Italic and of course, His book of short stories, personal essays and poetry entitled Don't Drown on Dry Ground is available now!


  1. Jack
    August 10, 2022 at 6:29 am — Reply

    The Silicon Valley titans have driven up the cost of living in SF and made life difficult. Why can’t one of them bail out this important cultural and educational institution (hint- look at my email address).

  2. August 10, 2022 at 4:47 pm — Reply

    I feel pretty hopeless about things like this these days. I expect it to become condos for already wealthy developers, a fabulous mansion for a tech gazillionaire, or left to gather graffiti long enough to be really annoying before one of these things happens. Bah

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