The chair of the board and two vice-chairs have stepped down after the city shot down their attempt to sell a Diego Rivera mural, and enrollment has dwindled to a measly 27 students.
It seemed a uniquely offensive form of sacrilege when word broke in late December, as first reported by Mission Local, that the San Francisco Art Institute was considering selling off its 89-year-old Diego Rivera mural, possibly to George Lucas, and looking to net some $50 million in the transaction. (And how would that even work? The mural is painted on the wall of the Chestnut Street campus!). The SF Board of Supervisors quickly put the kibosh on that by applying a historical landmark designation, which gave the financially beleaguered institution another case of heartburn, as they hoped to use the mural as collateral to secure another lifesaver loan.
The heartburn and fallout continues, as today KQED reports the resignation of SF Art Institute chair Pam Rorke Levy. That Levy and two other board members resigned (or were pushed out) is not a surprise. The most surprising detail is that KQED reports is that “the school's enrollment currently sits at just 27 students, down from over 600 students eight years ago.”
Having a mere 27 students, perhaps only some of whom are paying tuition, is certainly no way out of the institute’s $19.7 debt obligation that it owes to the UC Board of Regents, after that body stepped in and bought SFAI’s debt in July. UC is now effectively the SFAI’s landlord, and can take ownership of the school if the debt’s not paid back within six years. But even if the supervisors hadn’t stepped in to prevent the mural’s sale, the sale may have been legally blocked through other methods, as SFAI staff are claiming financial mismanagement and some former trustees are saying that use of the school’s use of endowment funds is bordering on illegal.
“I have seen their numbers and they have a giant hole in their budget,” former trustee Tom Loughlin told the New York Times. “There are students paying tuition right now to a school that has projected it could run out of money by April.”
The school already has a new board chair, as the Chronicle reports that photographer and Penn State professor Lonnie Graham will step in immediately. (Graham is also executive director of the SF nonprofit PhotoAlliance). The Chron also noted that “SFAI also announced Thursday, in an exclusive to The Chronicle, that it is beginning a $50 million scholarship fund available to 50 students a year for in-person or online enrollment.” That’s great, but it frankly seems an open question the art institute can even pull 50 students together for enrollment.
“I want to make sure the school has a future,” Graham told the Times. “We are trying, we are really trying. But we are not trying to do anything illegal.”
That is just a remarkable thing to have to tell the New York Times on your first day on the job.
Image: Ann S via Yelp