San Francisco Art Institute



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Arty Fact

San Francisco Art Institute
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800 Chestnut Street
San Francisco, California
United States

More about San Francisco Art Institute

ajardini's picture

Sr. Editor

My alma mater!  Perched on Russian Hill in San Francisco, this historic art school touts bizarro architecture and an amazing view.  Climb up to the roof and you can see clear to Alcatraz Prison.  You may have to step around some pierced youths with asymmetrical bangs smoking pot, but it’s definitely worth it. 

Besides me, there are tons of famous alumni and faculty:  Mark Rothko taught there and Ansel Adams founded the photography department.  Jerry Garcia and Courtney Love went there, no doubt encouraged by the experimental nature of the curriculum.  Trust me as someone who had to teach underclassmen there, you can get away with a LOT in the name of art.

Inexplicably, the school colors are grey and clear.  Wonderfully weird, just like SFAI. 

sjohnson's picture


The San Francisco Art Institute has adjusted to a dramatic series of cultural and demographic changes since 1871, the year of its founding as the San Francisco Art Association.

Ninety years later, it became the San Francisco Art Institute, and it has resided at 800 Chestnut Street since 1926. The Chestnut Street campus, between 1930 and 1931, became the site of a classic socialist realist mural by Diego Rivera, whose portrayal of the proletariat helped to define the David-influenced genre of postwar socialist realism. Like Bertolt Brecht's plays, Rivera's mural gives a snapshot of a construction process, with the capitalists wedged in the center, surrounded on all sides by laborers.

One of many ways to summarize the history of the San Francisco Art Institute is by looking at its alumni. Cookbook author and illustrator Mollie Katzen, Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, photographer Annie Leibovitz, filmmaker Errol Morris, painter America Meredith, muralist Fredrick E. Olmsted, and many other famous names in the arts were students at the San Francisco Art Institute.

From 2005 to 2009, the great curator and writer Okwui Enwezor served as Dean of Academic Affairs. Of the San Francisco Art Institute, Enwezor said, "I felt this sense of open inquiry among both the faculty and the students. SFAI is an experimental environment, a good home for my own intellectual curiosity and sensibilities. I see the practice of art in the broader network of knowledge production. So, for me, the challenge is not just whether the Art Institute can train artists of the highest quality, but also if it can enable artists for their larger role in the community and the world.”

At the archives of the San Francisco Art Institute, which are open to the public, you can see the original calligrapher's note from 1878 that grants approval for the first-ever showing of a film: “Mr. Bennett moves that Mr. Muybridge be granted the use of the rooms for the exhibition of his photographs of trotting horses. Mr. Muybridge to take the receipts and pay for his expenses.” Muybridge's famous clip, showing the anatomical detail of a horse, changed the history of visual art.

In many ways, San Francisco, at the edge of the continental United States, provides the ideal setting for an institution dedicated to the interests of artists who push the boundaries of expression and of life. The San Francisco Art Institute's new Fort Mason Campus offers 33,000 square feet of exhibition space, and is open to the public and free of charge.



  1. "Former Dean of Academic Affairs at SFAI Okwui Enwezor dead at 55—SFAI remembers his legacy." San Francisco Art Institute. Mar. 15, 2019,
  2. "San Francisco Art Institute: Who’s Critical? Art School Confidential." Art & Education. May 29, 2006,
  3. "SFAI History." San Francisco Art Institute.
  4. "SFAI—FORT MASON CAMPUS." San Francisco Art Institute.
  5. Whiting, Sam. "San Francisco Art Institute opens its Warhol trove of Polaroids, prints for first time." The San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 25, 2019,
  6. Whiting, Sam. "SF Art Institute Opens Archives to Public." The San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 1, 2017,

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Here is what Wikipedia says about San Francisco Art Institute

San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) is a private college of contemporary art in San Francisco, California. Founded in 1871, SFAI is one of the oldest art schools in the United States and the oldest west of the Mississippi River. Approximately 220 undergraduates and 112 graduate students are enrolled. The 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).

Check out the full Wikipedia article about San Francisco Art Institute.