An investor group that includes Laurene Powell Jobs, ODC Dance Company founder Brenda Way, and David Stull, the president and CEO of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, is in talks to purchase the San Francisco Art Institute’s Russian Hill campus.
The proposed purchase comes a year after the Art Institute, one of the nation’s oldest and most esteemed art schools, closed last summer due to decreased enrollment and mounting debts. In April, the school filed for bankruptcy, thus requiring it to liquidate its assets to pay back hundreds of millions dollars worth of debt.
Stull told the San Francisco Chronicle last week that the group is proposing to purchase the school’s Russian Hill campus, but not its newer graduate campus at Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture, a $15 million expansion finished in 2017.
The Russian Hill campus includes the famed 74-foot wide Diego Rivera mural, titled The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City (1931). Commissioned by SFAI itself, the painting depicts workers producing a fresco in the very space where the Rivera work is set. ABC News has reported that it could be worth $50 million. As it currently stands, the work could still be sold, along with the rest of the campus.
According to Stull, the group would preserve the Rivera mural and include it in a new educational institution opened on the site.
“It is in its nascent stage but tremendously exciting,” Stull said. “We are working to see that the Art Institute is preserved for aspiring artists to advance their work … It will also serve as a resource for established artists to come together as well as a center for community and the arts.”
If the group succeeds in making its purchase, it could end longtime consternation around the future of Rivera mural. As ARTnews‘s Alex Greenberger explained in June:
In 2021, with the prospect of closure looming, SFAI leadership made attempts to sell the mural, hoping to lure money to the school. Students and professors decried these attempts, with a union representing adjuncts saying that “this would provide only a limited lifeline, and does not address patterns of misbehavior and mismanagement by S.F.A.I.’s board and executive officers.” (SFAI denied these allegations.)
Amid the outcry over the plan to sell the mural, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to begin the process of making the Rivera painting a landmark, which would legally ensure that it could not be moved.