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Jul 23 2020

Art School in Peril to Restore Degree Programs

by Charmaine Kong

Courtyard tower of the San Francisco Art Institute, Chestnut Street Campus. Courtesy San Francisco Art Institute.

The San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) has announced that it will be reinstating degree programs for the coming academic year. This reverses the private art school’s previous suspension of student enrollment, publicized in March, and comes following the resolution of contract disputes with staff along with an increase in philanthropic support.

A press release from SFAI on July 22 revealed that the institute has settled its long-standing disputes with its Faculty Union on issues of shared governance and employment conditions under the collective bargaining agreement. The school will now restore limited classes in late August, most likely online, pending Covid-19 restrictions, and re-enroll graduating undergraduate and graduate students. Furthermore, all 15 tenured faculty members will be kept as full-time staff until June 30, 2021, as approved on July 2 by the institute’s Board of Trustees. In addition to the consensus, the re-offering of programs was rendered possible by “an outpouring of support and encouragement from potential partners and charitable organizations,” according to the institute’s board chair Pam Rorke Levy. The school has raised over USD 4 million from unspecified foundations, individuals, alumni, and government programs since April.

On March 23, the college had stated that it would have to cease instructional programs and lay off its tenured and adjunct faculty, after awarding degrees to graduating students in May. SFAI was suffering from decreased enrolment levels in addition to carrying an estimated USD 19 million in debt. Speaking of the previous announcement, Levy explained that the pre-existing financial shortfall exacerbated by Covid-19 governed the initial move, claiming that back then, the school “could not responsibly commit to keeping [its] faculty or students.” At the time, there were also discussions of merging with larger academic institutions in the Bay Area, although talks were placed on hold due to the pandemic.

One of the most pressing goals for SFAI is to increase fundraising and partnership building, and it plans to hold a future online auction featuring works by SFAI faculty and alumni. According to the board’s vice-chair Jeremy Stone, SFAI will need to raise an additional USD 4.5 million to brave the challenges ahead for this fiscal year.

Established in 1871, SFAI is California’s oldest art school, and has contributed significantly to Asian-American and global arts discourses. Notable alumni include the late Filipino-American artist Carlos Villa, among others.

Charmaine Kong is an editorial intern of ArtAsiaPacific.

To read more of ArtAsiaPacific’s articles, visit our Digital Library.

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