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San Francisco Art Institute

San Francisco Art Institute chair steps down in wake of controversy over proposed Diego Rivera mural sale

Pam Rorke Levy, who has led the school’s board since 2018, will be replaced by photographer and alum Lonnie Graham

The San Francisco Art Institute nearly closed for good in 2020 Courtesy of bart.gov

The San Francisco Art Institute announced on Friday that Pam Rorke Levy, who has served as the board chair since 2018, will be resigning her post and is to be replaced by photographer and SFAI-alum Lonnie Graham. Levy’s resignation follows a tumultuous year for the 150-year-old art school, which nearly closed for good in 2020 as a result of mounting debt made worse by the coronavirus pandemic, and the more recent controversy around the proposed sale of the university’s historic Diego Rivera mural, which is valued around $50m.

The University of California intervened in 2020 to buy SFAI’s debt, leaving the art school with six years to reimburse the UC. If it fails to do so, the University of California will take over the San Francisco campus. Any further talk of deaccessioning the Rivera mural to fix the school’s financial problems seems to have been put on hold following a unanimous vote by city officials to begin the process of designating the mural as a historic landmark.

“I feel I can step back,” Levy told the New York Times following the news of her departure, “SFAI has the runway to rebuild itself.” In his own statement, Graham added: “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.”