Cash-strapped SF Art Institute considers selling famous Diego Rivera mural

An artwork considered by many to be one of San Francisco's finest could soon be on the auction block, but not if the city’s Board of Supervisors has anything to do with it.

The giant Diego Rivera mural at the San Francisco Art Institute is quite unique, a fresco within a fresco, depicting the creation of both an artwork and a city. The private contemporary art college commissioned the famed muralist to create the piece in 1931 and was completed in just one month.

The famous mural created by Diego Rivera for the San Francisco Art Institute in 1931.
The famous mural created by Diego Rivera for the San Francisco Art Institute in 1931. Photo credit San Francisco Art Institute

"For anybody who has not seem them, they are literally breathtaking," said San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin. That's why he’s opposed to the idea of the struggling art institute selling the mural, valued at over $50 million, in order to balance its budget.

"While they’re working out their financial matters, we need to make sure that they do not sell off this piece of public art that has been open to the public for many, many decades," Peskin told KCBS Radio.

Instead, he wants the Board of Supervisors votes to make the mural a historic landmark, which would likely begin a legal battle over its future. Peskin has introduced legislation that forbids the removal of the mural without approval without city approval.

The art institute stresses no final decisions have been made, but behind the scenes, "a number of conversations have been taking place with several institutions about the possibility to endow or acquire the mural to ensure the future of the school and uphold our mission."

That's according to San Francisco Art Institute Board of Trustees Chair Pam Rorke Levy, who provided a statement to KCBS Radio:

"The 13 members of the Board of Trustees of SFAI have a fiduciary responsibility to SFAI to review all possible scenarios and analyze all assets in order to secure the school’s future so that we can continue our mission to provide our students with a rigorous education in the fine arts. As a non-collecting institution, and with collecting outside of the scope of our mission, several potential paths to financial stability could include endowing the mural in place, selling artwork/s from the collection, and/or major donor/s joining current contributors to create a well-funded endowment, which is and has been a major goal of current leadership. No determinations have been made regarding a possible endowment or sale of artworks, including the Rivera, or other assets. Regarding the Rivera, our first choice would be to endow the mural in place, attracting patrons or a partner organization who would create a substantial fund that would enable us to preserve, protect and present the mural to the public, as well as helping the board fulfill its fiduciary role to protect the school as an educational institution and ensure its future survival."