With the San Francisco Art Institute, one of the most highly regarded art schools in the U.S., facing pushback over recent moves it has made over its future, board chair Pam Rorke Levy has resigned. Photographer Lonnie Graham, who has been on the SFAI board since July, will take over her post effective immediately. The school also announced that John Marx had been named vice chair of the board.
In a statement, Levy, who has served as board chair since 2018, said, “As SFAI begins to reimagine itself for a new era post-pandemic and actively recruits for fall 2021, Lonnie Graham is the perfect candidate for the role of Board Chair.”
Last year, the nearly 150-year-old art school made headlines because it claimed that it faced the possibility of permanent closure due to Covid-19 and declining enrollment. Levy and Gordon Knox, the school’s president, said in April 2020 that there was “no clear path forward” for the school, which has produced a number of notable alumni, including Annie Leibovitz, Catherine Opie, and Kehinde Wiley. (Knox has since resigned.) Then, in August, the school announced that it would, in fact, begin offering classes once more.
But the controversy did not end there. Staff members alleged that the school’s leaders had severely mismanaged SFAI, potentially spelling financial disaster. Earlier this month, the school reportedly tried to sell a famed Diego Rivera mural estimated to be worth $50 million with the hope paying off $19.7 million in debt, angering art historians, current and former students, and staff alike. After the outcry, the mural was eventually classed as a landmark by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, rendering SFAI unable to part with the work.
Graham was an adjunct faculty member at SFAI in 2002 and 2016. He is the director of the PhotoAlliance, a San Francisco–based photography organization, and a photography professor at Pennsylvania State University.
In a statement, he said, “As we move forward, I would like to see the San Francisco Art Institute continue to cultivate and sustain experimentation and innovation in the fine arts as we imagine an inclusive and collaborative educational environment.”
On Friday, as part of the a 150th anniversary initiative, SFAI said it would launch a scholarship program that would offer funding to 50 students from “underserved backgrounds.” Julie Wainwright, founder and CEO of the RealReal, gifted money to make the program possible, and the school aims to raise between $8 million and $10 million that would also go toward the scholarships. It will begin offer the scholarships to students applying to matriculate in the fall semester this year.