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San Francisco Art Institute, With Diego Rivera Mural, Is Sold to Nonprofit

The main campus of the bankrupt San Francisco Art Institute, which is home to a beloved Diego Rivera mural, has been sold to a new nonprofit organization led by the philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs.

The nonprofit, made up of local arts leaders and supporters including Powell Jobs, the widow of the Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, bought the campus — which has been plagued by debt — through a limited liability company, for about $30 million. The sale, reported earlier in The San Francisco Chronicle, includes “The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City,” a 1931 mural by Rivera, which has been valued at $50 million and will remain in a viewing room.

The former school will house an unaccredited institution that will include a residency program where artists can “develop their work and show their work,” said David Stull, the president of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, who is a member of the new nonprofit organization’s advisory committee. He described the new center “as a platform for supporting artists and creating a center for the community around art.”

Powell Jobs, who declined to be interviewed, has in recent years become a potent philanthropic force as founder and president of the Emerson Collective, which combines investment and giving.

The purchase comes as the institute, facing debt of about $20 million, filed for bankruptcy last April; its two-acre property in the Russian Hill neighborhood was listed for sale last summer.

Artists and city leaders argued that the mural should remain and the San Francisco supervisors designated it a landmark to prevent its removal.

“San Francisco has long been a center for developing the arts and it continues to be an important center for developing ideas,” Stull said. “An institution like the art institute needs to be part of that future.”

In addition to Stull, the advisory committee includes Brenda Way, the founder and artistic director of ODC dance company in San Francisco; Lynn Feintech, the president of the Los Angeles-based Liberty Building and a longtime ODC board member; Stanlee Gatti, an event designer and former president of the San Francisco Arts Commission; and Stephen Beal, a former president of the California College of the Arts.

“San Francisco has been needing some good news and, with Macy’s closing and a doom-loop narrative, this is a huge shot in the arm for the entire city and county,” said Aaron Peskin, the president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Peskin, who said that he helped steer local zoning law amendments through the legislative process to accommodate a reimagined institute, says work on the campus is expected to take up to four years. “This is a sign that arts and culture could be part of San Francisco’s recovery,” he said.