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The Diego Rivera fresco at the art institute

San Francisco Art Institute

The San Francisco Art Institute will no longer offer any courses or degrees after an attempt to merge with the University of San Francisco failed.

The institute has been struggling financially since 2020, when it was engaged in other merger talks with local institutions, including the University of San Francisco, which announced in February that it had “signed a letter of intent to explore integrating operations and academic programs in the arts to elevate the next generation of artists.”

The Reverend Paul Fitzgerald, president of the university, wrote at the time, “Our shared goal is for undergraduate and graduate art programs at the two institutions to merge, and to create a world-class arts education program—unique in higher education—that will benefit our students through newly developed and collaborative opportunities.”

But the university announced last week that “after five months of extensive exploration and discussion about a possible integration of arts education programs for undergraduate and graduate students, the University of San Francisco has informed the San Francisco Art Institute that a full integration of the two universities is not feasible due to financial and other considerations.”

Father Fitzgerald added, “We had hoped for and invested in a more expansive outcome at the conclusion of due diligence and after the many months of excellent collaboration between faculty and staff. Today, aligned with university strategic initiatives and priorities, the university remains committed to expanding and growing its arts program.”

The university announced that it will hire arts faculty on its own into one-year appointments in a new fine arts program.

“Contingent upon the completion of new program development, accreditation and enrollment, these one-year appointments may be expanded to multi-year positions and additional new positions may be offered starting fall 2023 and beyond,” the university said. The university hopes to launch an M.F.A. program in fall 2023 and a B.F.A. in fall 2024.

The university’s decision was the last straw for the art institute.

“Since its layoffs, foreclosure proceedings, and perceived closure in March 2020, SFAI has educated and graduated 175 students while struggling for financial stability,” a statement from the institute said. “After many years of austerity measures, challenging fundraising campaigns, and various on and off merger and acquisition negotiations by a committed board and administration, SFAI is no longer financially viable and has ceased its degree programs as of July 15, 2022. SFAI will remain a nonprofit organization to protect its name, archives and legacy.”

The statement added, “As of July 16, 2022, no students or employees will fill SFAI’s historic landmark campus, a beautiful and unique spot in San Francisco with its glorious Diego Rivera fresco, exquisite views of the city, and its Italianate–meets–60s-Brutalism architecture. Instead, a few contractors will manage security, regulatory, legal, and financial matters, and ensure that students and alumni can access their academic records.”

As to the Diego Rivera fresco, the statement added, “SFAI owns the Diego Rivera fresco in the Chestnut Street campus. The University of California owns the building. SFAI will lose possession of the fresco if it defaults on or loses its lease on the building. SFAI is actively working with local and international donor communities to protect the fresco.”

Another Failed Merger

This latest failed merger follows the ending of plans to merge between Saint Leo University and Marymount California University. In April, two days after the two institutions called off their plans to merge, Marymount California announced that it would close in August.

“Like other small, tuition-dependent schools, MCU has struggled financially in recent years in the face of declining enrollment, rising costs and a pandemic, which university leaders acknowledged put them in a position of not having the resources needed to support the institution’s operational expenses,” a news release from the university said.

The merger was called off because the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, Saint Leo’s accreditor, rejected the plan. Saint Leo is based in Florida.

Jeffrey D. Senese resigned as president of Saint Leo, without explanation, this month.

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