San Francisco Art School president facing budget issues steps down

Pam Rorke Levy has resigned as president of the San Francisco Art Institute, a 150-year-old university that has struggled over the past year to emerge from multimillion-dollar debt and declining enrollment despite its history of training artists, including the likes of Kehinde Wiley, Catherine Opie and Annie Leibovitz.

“I feel I can take a step back,” Ms. Levy said in a statement on Thursday, in which she expressed optimism that debt restructuring and new leadership would mean “SFAI has the runway to rebuild.” .

His departure comes amid criticism over talk of the sale of a $50million Diego Rivera mural which would have given the SFAI a way to bridge its budget gap, but now appears to be on hold due to a decision to give it historic status.

Financial pressures had prompted the University of California’s board of trustees to step in last fall to help by buying the institute’s $19.7 million debt from a private bank, an effort to prevent a public sale of the Chestnut Street Campus and its Art Collections.

The institute is cooperating with an audit of its finances by the state attorney general’s office, which reviews the past seven years of the institute’s operation.

The president, whose six-year term expired last summer, had remained “to support SFAI through the additional challenges caused by the pandemic,” she said in a statement Thursday. She defended the council’s efforts, saying it acted to save the school and was taking steps to keep one of the last West Coast colleges dedicated exclusively to contemporary art in operation.

“Like other small colleges and arts institutions across our nation, we face formidable challenges,” she wrote earlier this month in a statement to San Francisco lawmakers who voted to initiate the historic designation of Rivera’s mural to block any potential sale, against the school. objections. “As trustees of SFAI, the trustees are obligated to review and pursue all options to put our assets to work, including the mural.”

But some critics say the board’s efforts to deal with its financial crisis may have jeopardized the school’s future and argued against a decision at a December 17 board meeting during which the trustees voted to spend $1.5 million from endowment funds that would eventually be repaid.

A former trustee, Tom Loughlin, raised concerns about the spending of endowment funds before resigning Jan. 16 from a committee set up by the board to review the school’s governance. This committee disbanded after sharing their concerns about the school’s financial situation with the wider community and calling for Ms. Levy’s resignation.

“I’ve seen their numbers and they have a giant hole in their budget,” said Mr. Loughlin, an artist and non-practicing lawyer. “There are students currently paying tuition at a school that has predicted it may run out of money by April.”

The school strongly disputed this characterization. Ms Levy said in a statement: “Mr. Loughlin’s comment is totally inaccurate.

“SFAI is committed to supporting current students through the end of the academic year,” she added, “and SFAI has the funds to fulfill that commitment.”

According to the Institute’s new president, photographer Lonnie Graham, the board voted last week to secure a new loan of more than $7 million to help SFAI survive the financial year and restore the dotation funds.

“I want to make sure the school has a future,” Graham said. “We try, we really try.”

Kayleen C. Rice