A group of deep-pocketed investors and arts patrons is reportedly lining up a bid to buy the bankrupt and shuttered SF Art Institute, a group including Laurene Powell Jobs — and they’d be keeping the famed Diego Rivera mural right where it is.
Whenever we’ve written about the severe financial problems and eventual bankruptcy and permanent closure of the 152-year-old San Francisco Art Institute — which includes the famed 74-foot wide Diego Rivera mural — many commenters on this site wondered why some local wealthy local tech types and philanthropists wouldn’t just step in to preserve the institution. Commenters, you may have been on to something.
The SF Business Times reported Thursday that a group of investors and arts patrons are looking to buy and resurrect the SF Art Institute. This is a highly credible group of people who absolutely have the means, including prominent philanthropist and Steve Jobs’s widow Laurene Powell Jobs, ODC/Dance Company founder Brenda Way, and San Francisco Conservatory of Music president and CEO David Stull (whose institution has certainly been expanding lately).
“It is in its nascent stage but tremendously exciting,” Stull told the Chronicle of the offer. “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,” he added.
The contentious fate of the Diego Rivera mural The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City at the 800 Chestnut Street campus is obviously at play here, but this group insists they would keep the mural in place and preserve it. (This is not to be confused with Rivera’s separate Pan American Unity mural, which had long been at City College, got moved to the SFMOMA in 2021, and is expected to return to City College.)
As recently as late July, ArtNews was reporting that realtor Cushman Wakefield was willing to sell off the mural to the highest bidder. If that highest bidder was the heir of the Steve Jobs fortune, Cushman Wakefield would surely be delighted with that arrangement.
The proposed buyers would only want the Chestnut Street campus with the mural, and not the school’s Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture campus. That campus was, in retrospect, a spectacularly unwise $15 million investment for the soon-to-be-bankrupt school, as it closed just three years after opening because of declining student enrollment.
Should this investment group close the deal, would the school still be the “SF Art Institute?” Details are very unclear at the moment. Note that Stull did say that the group hoped the “Art Institute is preserved for aspiring artists to advance their work,” so he did use term “Art Institute.” Though the school would presumably get new management top to bottom, which is probably a good thing, as previous management did not acquit themselves particularly well these last few years.
Image: Slsmithasdfasdf via Wikimedia Commons