Be a Part of Our Next 150 Years
For 149 years, SFAI has been cultivating the radical imagination and the vital role of art in shaping and enriching society and the individual. As we approach our 150th anniversary, amidst times of global uncertainty and seismic cultural shifts, SFAI is listening and responding. We are poised to evolve, adapt, and reclaim our history. Our tradition of bold experimentation is key to harnessing the transformative power of art in new and innovative ways, setting up the next 150 years of resilience and possibility.
We invite you to join us. We are committed to doing justice to this moment, and we need your participation. Please have a look below to learn more about our legacy, our current programs, our future plans, and how you can be a part of the next 150 years. Your gift is an investment in a new generation of artists, scholars, curators, and cultural workers, providing them the tools to make their unique impact in a rapidly changing world through curiosity, critical thinking and problem solving, experimentation and creativity.
Tunnels of the Mind, curated by Orit Ben Shitrit, 2020. Artwork by Ben Wood. Photograph courtesy of Orit Ben Shitrit.
SFAI History and Future
Founded in 1871 by artists and community leaders with a cultural vision for the West, the San Francisco Art Institute—first as a cultural center and then a fine arts college—has produced generations of creative leaders who have challenged convention and shaped the cultural life of the Bay Area, the United States, and the world.
Artists at SFAI have spearheaded art movements including fine art photography, the Beat movement, Abstract Expressionism, Bay Area Figuration, Funk art, avant-garde film, Conceptualism, and video and performance art, and they continue to help define contemporary art and the role of artists in today’s global society.
Notable faculty and alumni include: Ansel Adams, Kim Anno, Aziz + Cucher, Bill Berkson, Kathryn Bigelow, Elmer Bischoff, Stan Brakhage, Iona Rozeal Brown, Joan Brown, Nao Bustamante, Whitney Chadwick, Enrique Chagoya, Linda Connor, Dewey Crumpler, Imogen Cunningham, Angela Davis, Jay DeFeo, Richard Diebenkorn, Kota Ezawa, Karen Finley, Maria Elena González, Doug Hall, Ed Hardy, Mike Henderson, David Ireland, Harlan Jackson, David Johnson, Sargent Johnson, Toba Khedoori, Paul Kos, George Kuchar, Tony Labat, Annie Leibovitz, Shaun Leonardo, Sharon Lockhart, Cristóbal Martínez, Una McCann, Alicia McCarthy, Paul McCarthy, Barry McGee, Manuel Neri, Ruby Neri, Catherine Opie, David Park, Irene Pijoan, Jason Rhoades, Rigo 23, Deborah Roberts, Mark Rothko, Katrín Sigurdardóttir, Clyfford Still, Larry Sultan, Joseph Tang, Carlos Villa, Minor White, Kehinde Wiley, William T. Wiley, and Pamela Z.
Vanguard Revisited: Poetic Politics & Black Futures, installation view, 2019. Photo by Mengmeng Lu (MFA 2019). Image on right wall: Pirkle Jones, Black Panthers drilling before Free Huey Rally, DeFremery Park, July 28, 1968, Oakland, CA, #23 from A Photographic Essay on The Black Panthers. © Regents of the University of California. Courtesy Special Collections, University Library, University of California Santa Cruz.
In March 2020, when San Francisco and much of the world shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, SFAI’s future was uncertain. Financial pressures forced us to suspend our degree programs, drastically reduce faculty and staff, and rapidly restructure. Since then, an outpouring of support from our alumni, donors, and extended community has enabled SFAI to reverse course and secure a core group of faculty to teach courses for this academic year to a small cohort of students.
To help ensure our longevity, we’ve put in place the Committee to Re-Imagine SFAI, an autonomous, community-wide task force of board members, faculty, staff, alumni, and students, which is evaluating SFAI’s financial sustainability and taking account of its historic majors and degree programs. We are exploring models of art education that address racism, climate change, governance, and other urgent issues of the current moment. We embrace this opportunity for self-reflection, expanding our mission to teach and exhibit art in a changing landscape.
At the invitation of SFAI’s Board of Trustees, the Committee is co-chaired by three SFAI alumni: Tom Loughlin (MFA 2013), Karen Topakian (MFA 1987), and Christopher Williams (BFA 2017, MFA 2020).
Vasudhaa Narayanan (MFA 2018), Kollam, 2018. Performance with rice flour and water at the 2018 MFA Exhibition. Photo by Hewitt Photography.
Creating new ways of looking at and living in the world
SFAI continues a 150-year tradition of using radical methods for teaching and learning. By fostering courage and curiosity in aesthetic research and experimentation, we encourage students to use their art practice as an opportunity for critical inquiry, problem solving, and creative expression. Our courses and disciplines challenge conventions, embrace risk, and push students to discover uncharted artistic terrain. Degree trajectories are as individualized as each SFAI artist.
Through cross-disciplinary course work, independent studio time, dialogue and collaboration with peers and faculty, immersive history and theory courses, exhibitions and lectures, our students create new ways of looking at and living in the world.
Christopher Williams (BFA 2017, MFA 2020), A.t.L.a.S (ALS), 2019. Oil on canvas rolled on wooden dowel, 65 x 72 inches.
Art, Place + Public Studies
Art + Technology
Exhibition + Museum Studies
History + Theory of Contemporary Art
Faculty 2020 - 2021
Robin Balliger, Liberal Arts Chair
Orit Ben-Shitrit, Film Chair
Tim Berry, Printmaking Chair
Irene Carvajal, Printmaking Chair
Claire Daigle, MA Director
Maria Elena González, Sculpture/Ceramics Chair
Tony Labat, MFA Director
Jennifer Locke, New Genres Chair
Mads Lynnerup, New Genres Chair
Cristóbal Martínez, Art + Technology Chair
Jeremy Morgan, Painting Chair
J. John Priola, Low-Residency MFA Director
150th Anniversary Exhibitions + Programming
Our 150th Anniversary is a moment of resilience and transformation, featuring programming and events that bring our history alive as we build a new future together. Building up to SFAI’s 150th birthday on March 21, 2021, programming is already underway and will continue throughout the following year.
From the Tower: Transmission
Curated by Tony Labat
September 4—October 23, 2020
From the Tower: Transmission transforms SFAI's historic Chestnut Street tower into a monumental canvas for a series of video screenings curated by SFAI MFA Director, alumnus, and faculty member Tony Labat. The eight-week series explores SFAI's history of experimental art making with both archival and contemporary works by SFAI alumni whose practices developed under the ethos of the school's New Genres Department.
Since the early 1970s, the New Genres Department has been a pioneering breeding ground for the study of performance, moving image, and installation, and the intersection of the three. As one of the first graduates of the Department, Labat has been an integral part of its development since inception.
Projected on all four sides of the landmark tower, audiences are invited to watch from vantage points throughout the streets of North Beach, from the windows of neighboring buildings, or to experience the live streamed projections virtually from anywhere in the world.
From the Tower: Transmission, 2020, screening F*** You Purdue (1971) by Howard Fried (BFA 1968). Photograph by Christopher Paddock. Curated by Tony Labat (BFA 1978, MFA 1980).
The Leonard Peltier Statue by Rigo 23
The Leonard Peltier Statue by Rigo 23
SFAI Rooftop Terrace
October 9, 2020—March 28, 2021
Rigo 23’s large-scale sculpture of imprisoned American Indian Movement activist Leonard Peltier became the center of First Amendment controversy in 2017, when it was dismantled after threats from representatives of the FBI, among others. At six by nine feet (the dimensions of a U.S. penitentiary cell), the statue, depicting a seated Peltier, chin resting thoughtfully on his fist, represents a continuation of the artist’s decades-long commitment to advocate for political prisoners through his art.
In Solidarity with the Leonard Peltier Statue
Atholl McBean Gallery
October 9, 2020—February 27, 2021
The detachable feet of the statue have travelled Indian Country to many protest and ceremony sites including Standing Rock, Alcatraz Island, and Crow Dog's Paradise. Rigo 23 and collaborators invite people to stand on the feet to show their solidarity for Peltier. Hundreds have, including well-known activists like Angela Davis. Photographs of those standing in solidarity with Leonard Peltier Statue are on view in the upper level of the Walter and McBean Galleries in conjunction with the installation of the Leonard Peltier Statue.
The Leonard Peltier Statue by Rigo 23 (BFA 1991) at the San Francisco Art Institute, 2020. Photo by Alex Peterson (BFA 2015).
SFAI 150 | A Spirit of Disruption
SFAI 150 | A Spirit of Disruption
Curated by Margaret Tedesco and Leila Weefur
Walter and McBean Galleries and Diego Rivera Gallery
March 19—July 3, 2021
SFAI celebrates our 150th anniversary in 2021 with A Spirit of Disruption, an exhibition that reflects on the school’s extraordinary legacy and its profound and sustained influence on contemporary art. Leading up to the March 19th opening and anniversary day, a 10-episode podcast and web series, created by the exhibition’s curators, reveals new stories and old gleaned from SFAI’s vast archive.
The exhibition features a selection of artworks and archival materials that celebrate the ethos and expansive ecosystem of the institution. Curated by longtime faculty member Margaret Tedesco together with recent faculty member Leila Weefur, A Spirit of Disruption both embraces and takes a departure from the school’s wide-ranging history, advancing a new breadth of perspectives past, present, and future.
Are you listening?
Hosted by Margaret Tedesco and Leila Weefur
January 6—March 10, 2021
In conjunction with the exhibition, Tedesco and Weefur have produced an interactive multimedia web program titled Are you listening?, a 10-episode podcast series with accompanying short videos and digital images from the SFAI archive that will be released every Wednesday starting January 6 ahead of the opening of A Spirit of Disruption. It will be available at sfai.edu and through podcast apps.
SFAI News, Jay DeFeo and Hayward King, October 15, 1962. Original caption information on newspaper clipping: "Wanted: props for painting and drawing classes! Artists Jay de Feo and Hayward King demonstrate the College’s need for bizarre bric-a-brac, colorful costumes and clothing, discarded furniture, bedspreads, rugs, potted plants and even a bird-cage. Members, please check your attics for old, odd items and give them to the Art Institute." Photograph by Jame Mitchell.
Carlos Villa: Worlds in Collision
Curated by Trisha Lagaso Goldberg and Mark Dean Johnson
Walter and McBean Galleries
August 13, 2021—January 3, 2022
Carlos Villa: Worlds in Collision is the first museum retrospective of iconic Filipino-American artist Carlos Villa and is presented as a joint exhibition at both the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) and the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.
An alumnus and longtime SFAI faculty member, Villa (1936-2013) is a legend in artistic circles for his groundbreaking approaches and his influence on countless artists, but remains little known to many fans and scholars of modern and contemporary art. The full arc of Villa's career will be on display at SFAI as a featured highlight of the school’s 150th anniversary celebrations. Early works, including a 1958 painting that was created at the school when Villa was an undergraduate there, point to his emergence from San Francisco's abstract expressionist and Beat era milieux.
Carlos Villa: Worlds in Collision is curated by Trisha Lagaso Goldberg (SFAI) and Mark D. Johnson (San Francisco State University) with special support from Abby Chen, head of contemporary art at the Asian Art Museum. The exhibition is accompanied by an original, fully illustrated catalogue published by the University of California Press with major essays by renowned scholars including Patrick Flores, Luis Francia, Theodore Gonzalves, Paul Karlstrom, Lucy Lippard and Margo Machida.
Carlos Villa, Excavation, 1982. Acrylic on unstretched canvas with chicken bones; 95 x 125 inches. Courtesy of the Estate of Carlos Villa. Photo by Nora Roth.
Anne Bremer Memorial Library and Archives
SFAI’s Anne Bremer Memorial Library and Archives predates the school itself. In addition to its role of curricular support, it contains unique and irreplaceable archival collections that document the vital role SFAI has played in the development of 19th, 20th, and 21st century art and culture, from the first public screening of Eadweard Muybridge’s moving images of a trotting horse, to Ansel Adams’ founding of the country’s first college fine arts photography program, to the school’s role as the hub of West Coast Abstract Expressionism in the 1940s, Beatnik culture in the 1950s, and the experimental, boundary-pushing art movements of the 1960s through today.
The many initiatives undertaken by the library include:
Orbits of Known and Unknown Objects: SFAI Histories / MATRIX 277
SFAI’s Anne Bremer Memorial Library partnered with the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) to present an online art exhibition that celebrates the rich history and continued vitality of our iconic art school. Orbits of Known and Unknown Objects: SFAI Histories / MATRIX 277 is an innovative digital platform that invites visitors to explore SFAI’s artistic legacy through more than seventy-five objects relating to the school’s history, presented in an interactive format that highlights connections between these items and the people, places, and movements of the Bay Area art scene.
Thinking Out Loud: Digitizing 80 Years of Lectures and Public Programs at SFAI
This digitization project will make available online a repository of audio and video recordings, transcripts and ephemera documenting programs presented at SFAI over the past 80 years. Highlights include critics and art historians in conversation with artists, and lectures by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Lucy Lippard, bell hooks, Annie Leibovitz, Hans Haacke, Elaine De Kooning, John Cage, Rem Koolhaas, and Frank Gehry.
The Anne Bremer Memorial Library circa 1939, photograph by Ansel Adams.
SFAI has embarked on a major project to uncover and conserve a series of large WPA-era frescos, long hidden by layers of whitewash, on the walls of the Chestnut Street building. The school played a leading role in the development of the fresco as an art form in the United States in the 1930s, offering courses in fresco painting and turning over classrooms and walls to the exploration of the practice.
1934 fresco by Suzanne Scheuer nearing completion of restoration at Chestnut Street campus.
City Studio - Youth Art Program
Since 2005, City Studio has provided free arts instruction to underserved, economically-challenged and at-risk youth in San Francisco. Engaging up to 150 young people each year, the program introduces participants ages 11-18 to a wide range of art forms and provides training that opens up career possibilities in the arts and beyond.
City Studio exhibition at Diego Rivera Gallery, 2019. Artwork at center by City Studio instructor Kate Laster (MFA/MA, 2019).
How to Support the Campaign for the 150th Anniversary
The Legacy Continues With Your Support
However you choose to support SFAI—and at whatever level—your generosity is essential and deeply appreciated.
Join us in our celebration of 150 years of paramount arts education and our community of alumni, artists, scholars, and friends of past, present, and future. Your support fuels the arts in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond.
Ways to Give:
By Mail: Please send a check to: San Francisco Art Institute, 800 Chestnut Street, San Francisco, CA 94133
By Phone: 415.749.4516
For more information on these and other options, please contact SFAI’s Office of Advancement at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photography professor Linda Connor and artist Sanghun Lee (BFA 2020) discuss Lee’s work at SFAI’s Concentrate: Student Art Sale, 2019. Photo by Alex Peterson (BFA 2015).
Thank you for being a part of building SFAI's history. Every gift makes a difference, and every donor is an integral part of our work and future.
SFAI is thankful for the many generous supporters who make our programs possible. Our Exhibitions and Public Programs are sponsored in part by grants from the Harker Fund of The San Francisco Foundation, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Grants for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Koret Foundation, and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation. Major support for a range of additional programs at SFAI is provided by the U.S. Department of Education, the Bernard Osher Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Council on Library and Information Services; the Institute of Museum and Library Services; a Federal Save America’s Treasures grant administered by the Institute of Museum and Library Services; the Henry Mayo Newhall Foundation; the Mary A. Crocker Trust; the Mental Insight Foundation; and countless generous individuals.
Harlan Jackson as the deep sea diver in The Lead Shoes, 1948. Jackson was a student in Sidney Peterson’s Workshop 20 avant-garde film class at SFAI that produced this film which would later be selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress and will be preserved for all time.