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SFAI Legacy Foundation The Spirit is Alive Auction

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Last Spring The San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) closed its doors after 151 years. From its inception it has inspired a variety of artists. It was a small school whose impact had far-reaching effects on the art world. The SFAI Legacy Foundation +Archive (SFAI LF+A) is a nonprofit organization started in hopes of preserving the institute’s past and finding a permanent home for its archives. On March 26th an auction and art show took place at the Minnesota Street Project. Funds will go to aiding the future of the foundation. 

Over 450 People Attended.  All photos by Vita Hewitt

Pieces by Jon Roloff, Linda Connor, Larry Sultan, and Paul Kos to name a few, were displayed on the walls. Another wall held a detailed history of the school’s colorful past.

A small snapshot of the collaged SFAI timeline. Carol Doda’s student ID is visible from her time at SFAI.

The impressive wall of SFAI history.

Well-known local gallerist and supporter of SFAI Dianna Fuller was instrumental in creating this event. She was an energetic hostess. The guests were not quiet enough to enjoy one of the performances. She asked for silence. The request was not successful. She then rallied a group in the audience to yell “Shut the Fuck Up!” She is 92 years old and can absolutely command a room. 

Diana Fuller standing near Paul Kos’ Equilibre IV, 1992

The history of SFAI is a rich one. It was one of the oldest art schools in the United States. Past students include Richard Diebenkorn, Manuel Neri, Annie Leibovitz, Kathryn Bigelow, and Kehinde Wiley. I was also a student there. In classes, I always sat in the chair dedicated to Pirkle Jones in the auditorium. Jones was in the first photography class offered by SFAI. He met artists and instructors there that included Ansel Adams, Minor White, Edward Weston, and Dorothea Lange. He later went on to do an iconic series of images of The Black Panthers. Every inch of SFAI was steeped in stories like this. On any given day something interesting would be happening. Filmmaker and Instructor George Kuchar could be releasing hundreds of lady bugs for a film. Lectures were frequently given by famous artists old and new. It was always a place to create. 

V. Vale founder of Search and Destroy, a San Francisco-based zine documenting the punk subculture in the 1970s and 1980s.

Penelope Houston, alumnus and singer for the band The Avengers.

“We are delighted to take this crucial step forward in fulfilling our mission to preserve the rich history of the San Francisco Art Institute and make it accessible to researchers and the public,” said Charles DeSantis, Foundation President and Chair of the Board. “We believe that the stories and documents held within the archives are not only valuable to the art community, but also to anyone interested in the cultural and social history of the Bay Area and beyond.” 

Foundation President and Chair of the Board Charles DeSantis

SFAI LF+A was founded by a group of dedicated SFAI community members. As the demise of the school became imminent this group wanted to safeguard and make the archives accessible to future generations. The project was headed by SFAI archivists Becky Alexander and Jeff Gunderson. Both have stewarded the archive for many years. The two worked with the Foundation’s board to secure a new home for the archives. The end goal was to ensure that these irreplaceable materials are safe, accessible, and discoverable. Their work was bolstered by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The funds will support rehousing and cataloging the collection. 

Jeff Gunderson, head archivist

Tom Marioni reprised his piece Beer Drinking Sonata for 13 Players.

Tom Marioni performed Beer Drinking Sonata for 13 Players (1996) Three Movements: Alegro, Adagio, and Rondo with Alissa Anderson, Richard Biggs, Michael Brennan, Peter Gutkin, John Held jr., Paul Kos, Tom Marioni, Dan Max, Jim Melchert, Susan Middleton, Ruth Miller, Mark Van Proyen, Fran Valesco.

Jennifer Locke performed an endurance piece entitled Drag. She dragged a very heavy sack in a infinity symbol around the space. Attendees were surprised to see an arm poking out the back of the sack. First it drew a continuous line in chalk. Locke changed chalk out for an eraser and disappeared the line in a Sisyphean movement.

Jennifer Locke performed an endurance piece entitled Drag.

Jennifer Locke performed an endurance piece entitled Drag.

Jennifer Locke performed an endurance piece entitled Drag.

Jennifer Locke performed an endurance piece entitled Drag.

The auction was a great opportunity to bring the SFAI community together. Especially at a time when the loss of the school weighed heavy in the hearts of many. The absence of such a diverse artistic home leaves a large empty silence not just for San Francisco but for artists all over the world. It is especially tragic that this could happen in an area as wealthy as the Bay Area. By preserving this rich history artists in the future will have a chance to access a map of creativity so that they might find their own place within it.

Painters and alumni Anna Sidana and Lauren Jade Szabo

Amy Berk director of City Studios with recent graduate Barrett Moore.

SFAI Alums Glenna Cole Alee and Yong-Nicholas A. Kim

Pete of Pete’s Cafe which was located on the rooftop of 800 Chestnut st. Below him was a fairly accurate recreation of his cafe in wafer cookies.


Recent graduates Bianca Lago and Dominique Birdsong

Jennifer Rissler and JD Beltran enjoy a moment.

Past students had a chance to reconnect.

Mildred Howard past instructor and artist known for her mixed media assemblages.

The next event for SFAI LF+A hosted by San Francisco Artists Alumni (SFAA) will be an online event next Monday.

SFAA Spotlight | Kezia Harrell (BFA 2017)

Monday, April 3 · 10 – 11am PDT


To find out more about SFAI LF+A:


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Vita Hewitt

Vita Hewitt

Vita is a half Chinese-Malaysian, photograph taking, plant foraging, vegetable garden growing, astronaut impersonating, conceptual art creating Bay Area human. She loves exploring the intricacies of the Bay Area Art Scene.