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The San Francisco Art Institute Has Filed for Bankruptcy

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Piles of scattered leaves cover the brick ground of the courtyard of the San Francisco Art Institute in San Francisco on Feb. 1, 2023. (Beth LaBerge)

In a move long seen as inevitable, the San Francisco Art Institute filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection last Wednesday, on April 19, 2023. The case is currently pending in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of California.

SFAI’s recent financial struggles became public in March 2020, when the school announced it would not be enrolling a new class of students and was preparing faculty and staff for layoffs. In October 2020, to avoid foreclosure on its 800 Chestnut St. property, the UC Regents assumed ownership of the campus, and SFAI became a tenant.

And yet the school hobbled on with tiny classes and a skeleton team of administrators and educators. A hoped-for merger with the University of San Francisco fell through in July 2022. The 152-year-old art school graduated its last class of five undergraduates that same month. The campus has sat empty since.

Most recently, a new and separate nonprofit, the SFAI Legacy Foundation and Archive, staffed by former SFAI archivists and librarians Jeff Gunderson and Becky Alexander, moved the institution’s archives into facilities at 20 Hawthorne St., also home to Crown Point Press.

Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings usually lead to liquidation. In an interview with KQED earlier this year, SFAI board member John Marx explained that SFAI would only emerge from bankruptcy if enough funds were left to restart the school after settling debts. The April 19 court documents [PDF], signed by the school’s Interim Chief Operating Officer Mark Kushner, estimate that SFAI has 100–199 creditors and $500,001–$1 million in assets. The creditors likely include former faculty and staff, who may be entitled to additional severance in the pending case.

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