The front entrance to SFAI's historic 800 Chestnut Street campus

SFAI Leadership

Message from the President

I am delighted to welcome you to the San Francisco Art Institute, an extraordinary place and community.

Throughout its 142-year history as a school and cultural center, SFAI has been a magnet and incubator for provocative, defiantly original artists who have knocked down boundaries between art forms, invented new ones, and changed how people think about art’s role in society. And where else could this happen but in San Francisco? With picture-postcard beauty, a progressive heart, and a rebel soul, this city is inspirational to and impacted in turn by the Institute’s risk-takers, activists, and innovators.

It’s frankly mind-boggling to consider the illustrious figures who have made their home here, either as students or teachers: Ansel Adams, Kathryn Bigelow, Enrique Chagoya, Angela Davis, Richard Diebenkorn, Karen Finley, Don Ed Hardy, Annie Leibovitz, Paul McCarthy, Barry McGee, Catherine Opie, Mark Rothko, and Kehinde Wiley, to name only a few. And it’s thrilling to know that the next generation of game-changers is in SFAI’s studios and classrooms right now.

What keeps the Institute at the leading edge of contemporary culture is our commitment to providing arts experiences—for both enrolled student artists and a broad public—that encourage experimentation, cultivate critical thinking, and foster the creative problem solving that the world needs. SFAI’s academic programs provide a rigorous, highly personalized education in the visual and liberal arts within a tight-knit community of peers and accomplished faculty. The Institute also connects emerging artists and scholars with audiences beyond the campus to enable career-building through exhibitions, internships, and public engagement. For example, last year’s exhibition Currency, a showcase for graduating MFA artists at the historic Old Mint, attracted thousands of visitors and resulted in numerous invitations to show in prestigious galleries. (Explore the exhibition catalogue for a taste of the diverse and ambitious work.)

As SFAI faces the shifting landscape of art and education in the 21st century, the institution must apply its distinct culture and long-held values in a contemporary context. In 2013 the Board of Trustees approved a five-year strategic plan that will enable the Institute to strengthen its resources in service of art, artists, and the Bay Area. You can learn about the key pillars of the plan in the Annual Report.

Being a part of the SFAI community—whether as a student, participant in public programs, or campus visitor taking in the Diego Rivera Mural and spectacular views—can be a transformative experience, as I hope you’ll come to see for yourself. I encourage prospective students to contact an Admissions Counselor to learn about SFAI’s programs and arrange a personal tour, and all others to explore this website for information about upcoming events and more ways to connect.

I am honored to lead this singular institution, and look forward to sharing its magic with you.

Charles Desmarais