The Future of SFAI

Message to the SFAI Community

Published March 23, 2020

Over the past many months, the leadership of SFAI has been aggressively pursuing a number of strategies that would ensure long-term financial sustainability for our school, in hopes of setting the stage for a new era of growth as we approached our 150th anniversary.

Foremost among the options we considered was the possibility of merging or collaborating with another larger educational institution with the scale and resources necessary to help us survive, prosper and grow in today’s hypercompetitive landscape. Our goal was to find a partner that would share our values and vision, as well as honor, support and advance our long-standing commitment to the teaching of art and artists. We identified several potential partners, and that process led to formal and very promising negotiations with two of the Bay Area’s finest institutions of higher learning.

We regret to say that those talks reached an impasse this past week, in no small measure due to the unanticipated hardships and uncertainty wrought by the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic, as each partner turned its undivided attention to the immediate and still unknown future impacts on their campus communities. This development raised immediate concerns about our ability to reach a deal during the initial timeline that was contemplated.

As a result, SFAI’s leadership has no clear path to admit a class of new students for the fall of 2020. Given our current financial situation, and what we expect to be a precipitous decline in enrollment due to the pandemic, we are now considering the suspension of our regular courses and degree programs starting immediately after graduation in May of this year. At this time, it is unclear when instruction will resume, and in what form, pending our efforts to secure additional funding and potentially resume our talks with educational partners.  

What does this mean for our current students?

Remote and virtual instruction at SFAI will continue through the end of the Spring 2020 semester, so that all students have an opportunity to earn appropriate credits for their work.  Graduating BFA, MFA, and MA students should expect to receive their degrees in May as scheduled. All other provisions in place to address COVID-19 remain in effect, including the cancellation of BFA/MFA exhibitions and commencement. 

We are in negotiations with our faculty and staff unions now about the feasibility of continuing classes and degree programs in Summer/Fall 2020, hoping to have a final resolution as soon as we can. Given where we are in the admissions cycle, we understand that the prospect of class suspension just months away presents a formidable timing challenge for our current students who had planned to continue their education SFAI uninterrupted, but in the interest of shared governance we are committed to working with our staff and faculty to make the right decision for all. In the meantime, continuing students may choose to pursue placement at another school with our help, starting immediately and we encourage you to do so. Staff is available to work one-on-one with each of you over the coming days and weeks to smooth the transition beyond SFAI, resolving issues related to tuition, student aid, housing, graduation and transferring credits to other programs so that your education in the arts can continue as seamlessly as possible. 

What does this mean for our faculty and staff?

In the next few days all faculty and staff will receive notifications that layoffs are planned for end of this semester, as required by state law and in light of the current financial crisis and still-unknown impacts of COVID-19. SFAI leadership is already in discussions with our unions about the timing and terms of any layoffs, and more information will be forthcoming shortly.

Over the coming days and weeks our leadership team will also be convening unit-level conference calls and virtual meetings with employees to discuss and coordinate completion of this semester’s activities, and establish a virtual “one stop shop” for employees to understand their options and access to benefits.

What does this mean for SFAI moving forward?

In our long history, SFAI has survived countless calamitous events – none more dramatic than the 1906 earthquake that destroyed our first home on Nob Hill. Out of that disaster we emerged stronger than ever, establishing a world-class art institution that has since reinvented itself time and time again, endeavoring always to be at the forefront of new genres, new media, new means and modes of expression, always willing to take chances and risk failure in the passionate pursuit of art making.  

Today, we as an institution are facing a new set of challenges that will force us to evolve, and in the months and years ahead our goal will be to reinvent ourselves once again, perhaps taking a new form for a new era, but unwavering in the commitment to art and artists we have sustained over the past 149 years. While we remain hopeful there is a strategic partnership that will allow this commitment to continue, we are realistic that this will not happen any time soon in the face of an unprecedented global pandemic.    



Gordon Knox, President

Pam Rorke Levy, Chair of the Board