USF acquires the SF Art Institute

University seeks to integrate academic programs with SFAI

Students walking outside the front of XARTS Building. PHOTO BY BEAU TATTERSALL/SAN FRANCISCO FOGHORN

New studios and a new commute: USF art students may find themselves far from the hilltop next semester. On Feb. 2, University President Fr. Paul Fitzgerald S.J. announced in a community-wide email that USF is set to acquire the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI). The signed letter of intention between the two schools will integrate their respective art programs, creating a collaborative union between the institutions. USF will assume control of SFAI’s Chestnut Street properties, including the Anne Bremer Memorial Library, Diego Rivera Gallery, art and film collections, and extensive media labs. 

“This opportunity would provide us with a platform to advance a newly invigorated strategic vision for the arts, social justice and community outreach,” Kellie Samson, head of USF media relations, told the Foghorn in an email. “Additionally, SFAI’s deeply global vision of the arts, worldwide arts network, and robust global programming would meaningfully enhance the international perspectives in our students’ experiences, in and beyond the classroom.”

In the announcement, Fitzgerald said that both institutions would take part in “a period of due diligence,” as the University weighs the impact of this decision. The review involves the assessment of SFAI’s “finances, curriculum, the process of academic accreditation for the newly created program, physical assets on SFAI’s Chestnut Street campus, and other matters.”

According to the news release on USF’s website, this period of due diligence “will include a collaborative process of curricular redesign and development by USF and SFAI faculty to ensure the new integrated academic unit would reflect the vision and mission of both institutions.” 

The University is also using this time to explore employment guidelines for the integration. “The process will include conversations with faculty at both institutions to design/create an expanded and integrated program,” Samson said. In response to whether adjunct professors within the department would be affected by the merger, she added that, “While SFAI part-time faculty would be invited to apply for teaching assignments, USF would continue to honor the seniority rights of USF Preferred Hiring Program adjuncts as laid out in the PTFA collective bargaining agreement.”

University officials said the review is expected to be concluded by this summer. Once the integration is approved, operations are anticipated to merge next fall semester, creating the San Francisco Art Institute at the University of San Francisco or SFAI@USF. 

Art and Architecture professor Eric Hongisto said that the many resources provided by the integration could be incorporated into future curriculums and serve as inspiration for further classwork. “The department at USF has had space issues for 20 years, this is a good first step in alleviating the concerns for the arts at the USF campus,” Hongisto said. 

Madi Reyes, a second-year design major, also hopes the merging will lead to improvements in the art department’s space, XARTS, classrooms located under Fromm Hall. “XARTS is quite literally a garage converted into an art building, so a better space for the creative majors would be nice. Sometimes it can feel cramped and dark in there and I wish we had a more open, inspiring space that could be better for fueling our creative work,” Reyes wrote in her response to the Foghorn. 

Reyes also noted that many students pay for their own art supplies and software out of their own pockets, and would like to see increased funding to make materials more accessible to students. This sentiment was echoed by Olivia Spina, a second year fine arts major. “It’s an expensive major when nearly every studio class requires a different 10+ item list of tools,” Spina wrote.

Fitzgerald further stated that “our shared goal is for undergraduate and graduate art programs at the two institutions to merge and create a world-class arts education program — unique in higher education — that benefits our students through newly developed and collaborative opportunities.” 

“USF is delighted to join with SFAI and to work with the faculty, staff, and leadership to explore this exciting opportunity to create a distinctive program of arts education, unique in higher education,” said USF Board of Trustees Chair John F. Nicolai in the same news release. “We believe SFAI@USF would be a tremendous benefit to the Bay Area, the nation, and the world. Together, the two institutions would create a premier arts curriculum, with an intensive studio environment and a vital liberal arts education.”

Current USF Program Director of Fine Arts Sergio De La Torre spoke very highly of the  development, and as a former teacher at SFAI, he predicts that it will be “great for both institutions to work together.” “The faculty that is teaching there right now, they’re amazing teachers, and amazing artists, and thinkers and curators,” De La Torre said. He believes that SFAI@USF will be useful to the entire institution, including everything from the engineering program to environmental studies, not just the arts program. “I think that there is a possibility for all of the programs to benefit from this merger.” 

De La Torre added that he expects multiple disciplines within the arts will be included within the new program. “I would hope that it’ll be visual, it’ll be performance, it’ll be music, literature. I see all of them being part of this new college, this new school.”

Students share De La Torre’s hopes. “My friends and I always discuss how we wish there were more classes or majors/minors that focused on specific niches in the art world, especially since creative industries nowadays are so broad yet competitive,” Reyes wrote. “We’d love to see classes or programs that focus on specific art fields such as fashion, interior design, etc. so we can feel equipped to enter those specific careers/industries after graduation if we want to.”

Hongisto is optimistic about the expanded academic opportunities as well. However, he stated concerns for how adjunct professors may be treated during this process. “I hope that the University is able to work with both colleges, for both schools and extend an olive branch early to the part-time faculty so that everyone is brought on board and in a good timeline,” Hongisto said.

Both De La Torre and Hongisto expressed uncertainty around how the integration will work, specifically the institutions’ different teaching methods and philosophies as a liberal arts college versus an art school. “It’s hard to see the future,” Hongisto said. “However, there are a number of really successful mergers like this across the country. All of those schools are going to provide some very good background and experience which we can learn from their collaborations.”

Students also shared their excitement regarding the potential benefits it may bring. “I know SFAI is a really big art institute and I hope that the resources they have will improve USF’s art department,” said junior fine arts major Arin Vasquez. “Our professors are all extremely dedicated and wonderful and I really hope that the resources can help them do their jobs,” they added. 

At the time of this publication, USF plans to hold a town hall meeting on Feb. 8, with Fitzgerald and Provost Chinyere Oparah regarding the integration of the program and to further gather student input. 

The Foghorn will report on this meeting in the next issue.  

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