The San Francisco Art Institute Files for Bankruptcy

The San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) filed for Chapter Seven Bankruptcy, Due to the Outstanding Debts and Loss of Money.

Apr 28, 2023By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
San Francisco Art Institute
San Francisco Art Institute. Wikipedia


The San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) is one of America’s oldest art institutions (151). Also, a very prestigious one. But it seems its success, after a century and a half, came to an end. The institution is in huge debts, and it has to pay off creditors. The only solution currently remains bankruptcy. The institution weakened for years until it finally ended last year in July, when it stopped working.


The San Francisco Art Institute’s Debts

San Francisco Art Institute
San Francisco Art Institute. Wikipedia


This institution celebrated  its 150th birthday in 2021. It has national significance – it was attended by Kehinde Wiley, Joan Brown, Richard Diebenkorn, Enrique Chagoya, Annie Leibovitz and others. The school is in huge debt – it owes 10 million in total, and 6 million just to the University of San Francisco. The University of California and the Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture also have an involvement in this story.


Their representatives said SFAI owes them $450,000 and $750,000, because they own two campuses for which the rent isn’t paid. Also, the school is in debt towards its former teachers, to whom it did not pay their severance. The school faces its biggest problems in 2020, with the pandemic. Then it starts suspending the admission of students due to the small number of applications and debts.


Diego Rivera
Diego Rivera’s mural at the San Francisco Art Institute. Courtesy of the San Francisco Art Institute.


What is interesting, when you look at the fact that San Francisco lost 6 million, is that the merger of these two schools was supposed to happen in 2021. The representatives of the University of San Francisco decided to financially support this art school, thus enabling its survival. School representatives also considered the controversial sale of Rivera’s mural, which many condemned.

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The Rivera Mural Controversies

Art school
Courtesy of Getty Images.


Rivera’s mural estimated value is $50 million. In 2021, it became the city’s landmark – because of this, it couldn’t sell. According to this, the only way to sell the mural is if the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approves it. But, it seems that selling the mural is the only way to keep the institution alive. Before pronouncing it a landmark, many wanted to buy it.


For example, the person who stepped up was Star Wars creator George Lucas. However, the decision swiftly encountered criticism from the community, former students, and students. Photographer Catherine Opie, who graduated from SFAI in 1985, called the possible sale an “incredibly unconscionable decision” in an open letter to the school board. Now, there is a chance for its transfer to a public gallery or museum.




The Mellon Foundation gave the SFAI a donation of $200,000 a year ago for its upkeep. The efforts led to $4 million in capital fundraising, and the University of California’s Board of Regents purchasing the school’s $19.7 million debt, a deal that effectively made the institution the art school’s landlord. The school held its last graduation ceremony in July 2022, after a deal to merge with the University of San Francisco fell through.

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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.