The San Francisco Art Institute (Zee Jenks/Flickr)

In March, the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) announced that it is heading towards a permanent shutdown, citing years of declining student enrollment and financial losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. But now, after securing more than $4 million in donations, the 149-year-old school says it will remain open after all.

In a statement on Wednesday, July 22, SFAI announced that has reversed its previous decision to suspend all degree programs, and that it will retain all tenured faculty for the coming academic year after resolving a dispute with its Faculty Union (FUSFAI). Students who were within a year from completing their degrees were invited to re-enroll.

“We look forward to welcoming back some of our degree-candidate students, as early as this fall,” said SFAI’s Board Chair Pam Rorke Levy in a statement. “Most of our classes are likely to be online in fall semester, with on campus instruction resuming in the spring, pending the status of COVID-19 restrictions.”

After months of negotiation with FUSFAI, the school’s board of trustees agreed on July 2 to approve a budget that would keep the school’s 15 tenured faculty on staff full-time through June 30, 2021.

FUSFAI’s president Robin Balliger confirmed that the agreement “successfully resolves our grievances under the Collective Bargaining Agreement relating to shared governance as well as employment conditions.”

“A number of students have already told us that they would like to return to SFAI to finish out their degrees here,” Balliger added. “The faculty are excited about working with them online and then getting back to the studios and classrooms with them when it’s safe to do so.”

SFAI may temporarily be out of troubled waters, but still faces an uncertain future according to its board’s vice-chair, Jeremy Stone.

“We need to raise $4.5 million more to make it through this fiscal year and cover the commitment to our faculty, staff and students,” Stone warned but said that the school has found “some exciting opportunities ahead to attract new supporters and build on our relationships with long-time donors.”

According to Stone, the school is hoping to raise more funds from “high-profile online auctions” featuring works by well-known SFAI faculty and alumni, which will be combined with a series of public events and programs leading up to SFAI’s 150th anniversary in March next year.

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital Arts Writers Grant and he holds an MFA in Art Writing from the School of Visual...