A Group Backed by Laurene Powell Jobs Is Eyeing a Former San Francisco Art Institute Building With a $50 Million Diego Rivera Mural

The school filed for bankruptcy earlier this year after financial struggles and a failed bid to sell the mural, which is now landmarked.

Diego RIvera's mural at the San Francisco Art Institute. Courtesy of the San Francisco Art Institute.

In what could be a sign of new life for the now shuttered San Francisco Art Institute, a group of investors and advocates led by billionaire philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs has made an offer to buy one of the bankrupt school’s former campus buildings.

The institute’s Russian Hill campus, which boasts bay views and an historic—and very valuable—Diego Rivera mural onsite, was the subject of an offer from the nine-member group, according to local news reports. No offer price or terms were disclosed.

David Stull, president and CEO of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) and a member of the group, told the San Francisco Chronicle that they had been working on a plan to buy the campus for the past four months. “It is in its nascent stage but tremendously exciting,” he told the paper, adding that the Art Institute would remain an “educational center,” although it was not clear in what capacity.

“We are working to see that the Art Institute is preserved for aspiring artists to advance their work,” Stull said. “It will also serve as a resource for established artists to come together as well as a center for community and the arts.”

Laurene Powell Jobs speaks during The New York Times DealBook Conference on November 9, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Cohen/Getty Images for The New York Times)

A representative for the advisory group declined to comment to Artnet News. A representative for Stull told Artnet News via email that “SFCM President David Stull is one of several volunteer advisors within the arts community in San Francisco and supports the reimagination of the future of the institute of art.”

Notably, the proposed deal for the acquisition does not include the Institute’s graduate campus at Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture, which underwent what was widely viewed as an “ill-timed” expansion and renovation that set the Institute back about $15 million and was finished in 2017. The building closed in 2020 and the Institute was evicted for nonpayment of rent in 2022.

San Francsico Conservatory of Music president and CEO David Stull. Photo via SFCM.

San Francsico Conservatory of Music president and CEO David Stull. Photo via SFCM.

An acquisition of the Russian Hill building would potentially preserve and include the Diego Rivera mural The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City, which was painted on its walls in 1931. The artwork was declared a city landmark in 2021.

The Institute filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in April, after years of struggling under its debt load. The move requires the more than 150-year old school to liquidate its assets.

While among the school’s assets is some more moderately priced art, the real treasure is the Rivera mural, which has been estimated to be worth as much as $50 million.

According to the Chronicle, rumors about a possible deal for the campus had been circulating on the local art scene recently. The eventuality became more likely at a recent meeting of the San Francisco city and county board of supervisors when board President Aaron Peskin introduced legislation to remove a requirement that the campus only serve an academic institution accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Peskin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Any property sale would presumably have to be approved by authorities and trustees overseeing the liquidation process and sorting out the hierarchy of creditor claims. Attorneys overseeing the bankruptcy proceeding did not respond to a request for comment.

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