SF Art Institute Has Declared Bankruptcy, Looks Finished After 152 Years


Saddled with $10 million in debt and with only 41 students currently enrolled, the San Francisco Art Institute has declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and the school appears to be liquidating all assets and calling it quits.  

We’ve been hearing stories for a while that the 152-year-old San Francisco Art Institute might only survive another year, or that it might have to sell off its prized Diego Rivera mural The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City (a deal that ended with two vice-chairs being forced to resign.) The art school’s latest hoped-for lifeline had been a merger deal with the University of San Francisco, but that too fell through last summer, The institute closed its main campus last year, rendering it, in the words of the Examiner, a “dead campus.”

And it appears the storied but insolvent school has no more lifelines. The Chronicle reports that the SF Art Institute (SFAI) has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy as of April 19.

“It was a good run for 152 years and it is such a tragedy that it is gone,” former board co-chair  John Marx told the Chronicle. “The passion was there until the very end and up to the moment that we filed we were still trying to get a couple of billionaires on the East Coast to help us out but it just didn’t work out.”

The SFAI main campus at 800 Chestnut Street is owned by the Regents of the University of California, thanks to a complicated will that deeded the land to the Regents, who are apparently owed $450,000 in unpaid rent. As for the school’s abandoned Fort Mason Campus (clearly an ill-advised $14 million expansion in  2017), they reportedly owe $750,000 in back rent there.

The school’s total debt liability listed in the filing is just over $10 million, per the Chronicle, and other creditors owed include AT&T, PG&E, and Bay Alarm. The University of San Francisco, which in early 2022 appeared as a potential savior for SFAI in exploring a merger deal, claims it is owed $6 million for that failed deal.

And here’s a sad footnote; according to the Chronicle,  “Also among the creditors are every faculty member who has lost his or her job in the upheaval and is owed severance.”

In its prolific 152 years, SFAI has counted many luminaries among its students and faculty, including Dorothea Lange, Lisette Model, Wayne Thiebaud, Richard Diebenkorn, and Ansel Adams.

“It is the last chapter of a long running civic education arts tragedy,” Supervisor Aaron Peskin told the Chronicle. “The legacy lives everywhere. All around this city and this country is the art that this institution produced and fostered, from Annie Liebovitz to North Beach’s own Dennis Hearne. But at this point it is over.”

A few key details illustrate just how “over” it is for SFAI. The Chronicle reports that the school’s student body was down to just 41 students when the campus closed. And in an ironic connection with another recently fallen giant, the Chronicle adds that “Among assets the Art Institute lists $9.35 in an account at Silicon Valley Bank.”

Related: After Deal With USF Falls Through, SF Art Institute Again Looks to Be Shutting Down [SFist]

Image: Slsmithasdfasdf via Wikimedia Commons

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