Why you should go to art school

Explore this information with family as you discuss your future at art school and beyond.

Higher education in the visual and liberal arts prepares people to thrive in a complex world that increasingly demands critical thinking, creative problem solving, and tenacity, and SFAI’s alumni have found success across a variety of fields.

Among the Institute’s incredible alumni are artists Annie Leibovitz, Kehinde Wiley, and Barry McGee; Oscar-winning filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow; entrepreneurs like Roxanne Quimby, founder of Burt’s Bees products; and even the Board Chair of Greenpeace, Karen Topakian. Each year, thousands of alumni exhibit in galleries and museums around the world or otherwise apply their SFAI education to their work. Read on for more resources about higher education in the arts, the satisfaction of art school graduates, and recent accomplishments of SFAI alumni.


Accreditation and nonprofit status are two important factors to consider when choosing an art school.

SFAI, a nonprofit institution, is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges(WASC) and by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).

SFAI is also a member of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design(AICAD), a non-profit consortium of 43 leading art schools in the US and Canada. Explore the success stories on the AICAD website to learn more about how art school graduates are applying their education.

Strategic National Arts Alumni Project

The Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) is an initiative of the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research in cooperation with the Vanderbilt University Center for Art, Enterprise, and Public Policy, and is designed to enhance the impact of art-school education.

The SNAAP 2012 Annual Report, A Diverse Palette: What Arts Graduates Say About their Education and Careers, which draws on a 2011 survey of more than 36,000 arts alumni from 66 institutions in the United States and Canada (including SFAI), reveals the following findings:

Nearly nine out of 10 employed arts graduates responding to the survey are satisfied with the job they spend the majority of their work time in. Of those employed alumni, 82% are satisfied with their ability to be creative in their current work, whether working in the arts or in other fields.
Only 4% of SNAAP respondents report being unemployed and looking for work—less than half the national rate of 8.9% (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011).

84% of employed alumni agree that their current primary job reflects their personalities, interests and values, whether their work is in the arts or other fields.

74% of those who intended to be artists reported that they have worked as professional artists at some point in their careers.

Further reading:

Is an MFA the new MBA?
Fast Company, March 2013

Studying the Arts in Higher Education Creates Artists & Alchemists
Americans for the Arts ARTSblog, April 2013

So Your Son or Daughter Wants to be an ART Major?!
Arizona State University Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts Blog, September 2013

Recent Accomplishments of SFAI Alumni

Five SFAI alumni have received prestigious Guggenheim Fellowships in the last three years:

Michael Arcega (BFA, 1999) received a 2012 fellowship in Fine Arts
Kathy Goodell (BFA and MFA) received a 2013 fellowship in Fine Arts
Michelle Handelman (BFA, 1989) received a 2011 fellowship in Film and Video
Bill Jacobson (MFA, 1981) received a 2012 fellowship in Photography
Bernie Lubell (MFA, 1975) received a 2011 fellowship in Fine Arts


Anthony Aziz (MFA Photography, 1990) and Sammy Cucher (MFA New Genres, 1992) were the subject of Aziz + Cucher: Some People at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, featuring four newly commissioned video installations.


JD Beltran (MFA, 1998) was appointed President of the San Francisco Arts Commission, which seeks to integrate the arts into all aspects of city life.


Kathryn Bigelow (BFA Painting, 1972), who won an Oscar in 2010 for directing The Hurt Locker, was nominated for Best Picture for her new film Zero Dark Thirty.


Lisa K. Blatt (MFA New Genres, 2006) was selected by Cindy Sherman to be featured in the Smithsonian Magazine article “The New Stars of Photography.”


Frida Cano (MA Exhibition and Museum Studies, 2011) curated the exhibition Numina Femenina: Latin Women in the Arts at the Consulate General of Mexico in San Francisco.


Carissa Potter Carlson (MFA Printmaking, 2010) and Luca Nino Antonucci (MFA New Genres, 2010) launched the creative venture Edicola, selling a curated selection of artists' books, newspapers, and prints out of a former San Francisco Chronicle kiosk on Market Street.


Michael Glawogger (Film, 1981) was the subject of a mid-career retrospective at the Museum of the Moving Image, New York and the screening series Afterimage: Films of Michael Glawogger at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.


Peter Gronquist (BFA Painting, 2001) and Casey Gray (MFA Painting, 2010) were featured artists at Miami’s SCOPE Art Show in December with San Francisco's White Walls gallery.


Chris Hood (MFA Painting, 2010) received the $10,000 second-place prize from the MFA Edition of the online VIP Art Fair.


Hernan Jimenez (BFA Film, 2011) wrote and directed the film El Regreso (The Return), which was nominated for Best Director and won Best International Feature at the 2011 HBO New York International Latino Film Festival. The film was also selected for the Mar del Plata International Film Festival in Argentina.


David Johnson (BFA Painting, 1949) published a new book, A Dream Begun So Long Ago: The Story of David Johnson, Ansel Adams’ First African American Student(Khedcanron Publishing, 2012).


Annie Leibovitz (BFA, 1971) published a new book Pilgrimage (Random House, 2011). An accompanying traveling exhibition, Annie Leibovitz: Pilgrimage, premiered at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which acquired the works for its permanent collection.


Sharon Lockhart (BFA Photography, 1991) presented the solo exhibition Lunch Break, developed during a year at a naval shipbuilding plant in Maine, at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.


Jet Martinez (BFA Painting, 2001) became Facebook’s first artist in residence, painting the mural Bouquet at the company’s Menlo Park headquarters.


Lindsay McCrum (MFA Photography, 2004) published the book Chicks With Guns(Vendome Press, 2011), a cultural portrait of women gun owners in America.


Barry McGee (BFA Printmaking, 1991) was the subject of a critically acclaimed retrospective at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive in fall 2012.


Nikki Mirsaeid (BFA Design and Technology, 2010), with Taj Robinson and Liane Al-Ghusain, received an Alternative Exposure grant from Southern Exposure to develop ALTAR, a mobile curatorial project that locates and transforms unconventional spaces into exhibition venues.


Laura Poitras (1986–1989) was awarded a 2012 MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" for her "elegant and illuminating documentaries."


Kara Smith (MA Urban Studies, 2009) received SOMArts Cultural Center's Commons Curatorial Residency, along with co-curator Laura Poppiti, for their exhibition Performing Community.


Kehinde Wiley (BFA Painting, 1999), known for his vibrant, large-scaled paintings of contemporary urban men in heroic poses, had an exhibition, The World Stage: Israel, in spring 2013 at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco.


Patrick Wilson (MFA Sculpture, 2005) received a 2012 Fulbright Fellowship to develop sculpture and photography from sites of new urban developments in China.


Members of the Indigenous Arts Coalition—Nizhoni Ellenwood (BFA Photography, 2010), Spencer Keeton Cunningham (BFA Printmaking, 2010), Richard Castaneda (MFA Photography, 2010), and Rye Purvis (BFA Painting, 2011)—received an Alternative Exposure grant from Southern Exposure to present the exhibition Real N.D.N: Native Diaspora Now at Galeria de la Raza, San Francisco.


Painting alumni Chris Ballantyne (MFA 2002), Ana Teresa Fernandez (BFA 2004, MFA 2006), Brett Goodroad (MFA 2007), Jack Leamy (MFA 2010), Yoon Lee (MFA 2005), Leslie Shows (BFA 1999), and Paul Wackers (MFA 2004) were featured in the fall exhibition 10 Revolutions Around the Sun: A Decade of the Tournesol Painting Award at the Headlands Center for the Arts.


Numerous alumni were featured in the exhibition Fifty Years of Bay Area Art: The SECA Awards at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, including Sarah Cain (BFA Interdisciplinary, 2001), Kota Ezawa (BFA New Genres, 1995), Andrea Higgins (MFA Painting, 1995), Barry McGee (BFA Printmaking, 1991), Rigo 23 (BFA, 1991), Leslie Shows (BFA Painting 1999), and Josephine Taylor (MFA Painting, 2003).

Alumni Art Spaces

SFAI alumni have founded galleries, experimental spaces, and community art centers throughout the Bay Area:

Artists’ Television Access

Eli Ridgway Gallery

Ever Gold Gallery

Gallery 16

Romer Young Gallery

Root Division

Royal NoneSuch Gallery

Queen’s Nails Gallery