School of the Art Institute of Chicago

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) is one of America's largest accredited independent schools of art and design. It is located in the Loop in Chicago, Illinois. The school is associated with the museum of the same name, and "The Art Institute of Chicago" or "Chicago Art Institute" often refers to either entity. Providing degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels, SAIC has been recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top graduate art programs in the nation, as well as by Columbia University's National Arts Journalism survey as the most influential art school in the United States.

School of the Art Institute Chicago Grant Park
The school's Grant Park, Columbus Avenue, building, attached to the museum, houses a premier gallery showcase.

Tracing its history to an art students' cooperative founded in 1866, which grew into the museum and school, SAIC has been accredited since 1936 by the Higher Learning Commission, by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design since 1944 (charter member), and by the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD) since its founding in 1991. Additionally it is accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board.

Its downtown Chicago campus consists of seven buildings located in the immediate vicinity of the AIC building. SAIC is in an equal partnership with the AIC and share many administrative resources such as design, construction, and human resources. The campus, located in the Loop, comprises chiefly three buildings: the Michigan (112 S. Michigan Ave.), the Sharp (37 S. Wabash Ave.), and the Columbus (280 S. Columbus Dr.). SAIC also owns additional buildings throughout Chicago that are used as student galleries or investments.

School of the Art Institute of Chicago
SAIC logo
TypePrivate art school
ChancellorWalter E. Massey
PresidentElissa Tenny
Academic staff
141 full-time
427 part-time
Undergraduates2,842 (Fall 2015)[1]
Postgraduates748 (Fall 2015)
Location, ,
41°52′46″N 87°37′26″W / 41.87944°N 87.62389°WCoordinates: 41°52′46″N 87°37′26″W / 41.87944°N 87.62389°W
AffiliationsArt Institute of Chicago


The institute has its roots in the 1866 founding of the Chicago Academy of Design, which local artists established in rented rooms on Clark Street. It was financed by member dues and patron donations. Four years later, the school moved into its own Adams Street building, which was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Because of the school's financial and managerial problems after this loss, business leaders in 1878 formed a board of trustees and founded the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. They expanded its mission beyond education and exhibitions to include collecting. In 1882, the academy was renamed the Art Institute of Chicago. The banker Charles L. Hutchinson served as its elected president until his death in 1924.[2]

Chancellor Walter E. Massey served as president from 2010–July 2016. The current president is Elissa Tenny, formerly the school's provost.[3]


SAIC offers classes in art and technology; arts administration; art history, theory, and criticism; art education and art therapy; ceramics; fashion design; filmmaking; historic preservation; architecture; interior architecture; designed objects; journalism; painting and drawing; performance; photography; printmaking; sculpture; sound; new media; video; visual communication; visual and critical studies; animation; illustration; fiber; and writing. SAIC also serves as a resource for issues related to the position and importance of the arts in society.

SAIC PaintCritique
"Painting critique": students' critiquing Ben Cowan's work
SAIC EtchLab
The Etching Room, with etching presses and workstations

SAIC also offers an interdisciplinary Low-Residency MFA for students wishing to study the fine arts and/or writing.


As of fall 2016, the student enrollment at SAIC is demographically classified as follows:[4]

Total Enrollment: 3,569

Undergraduate students: 2,848

Graduate students: 721


Female: 72.3%

Male: 27.7%

International and ethnic origin:

International students: 32% (countries represented: 59)

United States students: 68%, further subdivided as follows:

White: 35.6%

Hispanic: 10.6%

Asian or Pacific Islander: 10.4%

African American: 3.6%

American Indian: 0.3%

Multiethnic: 2.8%

Not Specified: 5.2%

Geographic distribution of United States students:

Midwest: 47% (includes 10.6% from Chicago)

Northeast: 20%

West: 18%

South: 16%


Visiting Artists Program

Founded in 1868, the Visiting Artists Program (VAP) is one of the oldest public programs of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Formalized in 1951 by Flora Mayer Witkowsky's endowment of a supporting fund, the Visiting Artists Program hosts public presentations by artists, designers, and scholars each year in lectures, symposia, performances, and screenings. It is an eclectic program that showcases artists' working in all media, including sound, video, performance, poetry, painting, and independent film; in addition to significant curators, critics, and art historians.

Recent visiting artists have included Catherine Opie, Andi Zeisler, Aaron Koblin, Jean Shin, Sam Lipsyte, Ben Marcus, Marilyn Minter, Pearl Fryar, Tehching Hsieh, Homi K. Bhabha, Bill Fontana, Wolfgang Laib, Suzanne Lee, and Amar Kanwar among others.

Additionally, the Distinguished Alumni Series brings alumni back to the community to present their work and reflect on how their experiences at SAIC have shaped them. Recent alumni speakers include Tania Bruguera, Jenni Sorkin, Kori Newkirk, Maria Martinez-Cañas, Saya Woolfalk, Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba, and Sanford Biggers to name a few.


  • Sullivan Galleries- Located to the 7th floor of the Sullivan Center at 33 S. State Street. With shows and projects often led by faculty or student curators, it is a teaching gallery that engages the exhibition process as a pedagogical model and mode of research.
  • SITE Galleries (formerly Student Union Galleries) - Founded in 1994, SITE, once known as the Student Union Galleries (SUGs), is a student-run organization at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) for the exhibition of student work. The two central tenets of the galleries are to build relationships between different departments and stakeholders throughout the institution and strengthen our role as a teaching gallery within and beyond SAIC. This is accomplished first through providing a consistent space for undergraduate and graduate directors to organize and generate exhibitions that realize the vision of student artists. Furthermore, with strategic programming, SITE supports these exhibitions and engages evolving currents and discourses in our communities. The student-led structure provides opportunities for emerging artists and scholars to explore artistic and administrative methods by placing emphasis on collaborative processes and professional practice in and out of the classroom. They have two locations: The SITE Sharp of the 37 South Wabash Avenue building; and SITE Columbus of the 280 South Columbus Drive building. The two locations allow the galleries to cycle two shows simultaneously.

Student organizations


ExTV is a student-run time-arts platform that broadcasts online and on campus. Its broadcasts are available via monitors located throughout the 112 S. Michigan building, the 37 S Wabash building, and the 280 S. Columbus building. It is available on campus and off campus at and on cantv.

F Newsmagazine

F Newsmagazine is a student-run newspaper with both paid and volunteer positions. The magazine is a monthly publication with a run of 12,000 copies. Copies are distributed throughout the city, mainly at locations frequented by students such as popular diners and movie theaters.

Free Radio SAIC

Free Radio SAIC is the student-run Internet radio station of The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Free Radio uses an open programming format and encourage its DJs to explore and experiment with the medium of live radio. Program content and style vary but generally include music from all genres, sound art, narratives, live performances, current events and interviews. [1]

Featured bands and guests on Free Radio SAIC include Nü Sensae, The Black Belles, Thomas Comerford, Kevin Michael Richardson, Jeff Bennett, Carolyn Lawrence, and much more.[5][6][7]

Student government

The student government of SAIC is unique in that its constitution resembles a socialist republic, in which four officers hold equal power and responsibility. Elections are held every year. There are no campaign requirements. Any group of four students may run for office, but there must always be four students.

The student government is responsible for hosting a school-wide student meeting once a month. At these meetings students discuss school concerns of any nature. The predominant topic is funding for the various student organizations. Organizations which desire funding must present a proposal at the meeting by which the students vote whether they should receive monies or not. The student government cannot participate in the vote: only oversee it.

The student government is also responsible for the distribution of the Peanut Butter & Jelly Fund, Welcome Back to School Party, Monthly Morning Coffees, Open Forums, Barbecues in the Pit (the outdoor area at the entrance of the 280 S Columbus Building), Holiday Art Sale, and a Materials Event. In the past Student Government has accomplished such things as campus-wide recycling, and access to the Chicago Transit Authority's U-Pass.


In a survey conducted by the National Arts Journalism Program at Columbia University, SAIC was named the “most influential art school” by art critics at general interest news publications from across the United States.[8]

In 2017[9], US News ranked SAIC the fourth best overall graduate program for fine arts in the U.S. tying with the Rhode Island school of Design. In January 2013, The Global Language Monitor ranked SAIC as the #5 college in the U.S., the highest ever for an art or design school in a general college ranking. [10]


Mirth & Girth

On May 11, 1988, a student painting depicting Harold Washington, the first black mayor of Chicago, was taken down by three of the city's African-American aldermen based on its content.[11] The painting by David Nelson, titled Mirth & Girth, was of Washington clad only in women's underwear and holding a pencil.[12] Washington had died suddenly less than six months earlier, on November 25, 1987.

After the aldermen held the painting hostage, Police Superintendent LeRoy Martin ordered officers to take it into custody.[11] Art students protested. The painting was returned after a day. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department and the aldermen. The ACLU claimed the removal violated Nelson's First, Fourth, and Fourteenth amendment rights. A 1992 federal court affirmed his constitutional rights had been violated.[13] In 1994 the city agreed to a settlement to end litigation; the money would go toward attorneys' fees for the ACLU. The three aldermen agreed not to appeal the 1992 ruling, and the Police Department established procedures over seizure of materials protected by the First Amendment.[11]

What Is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?

In February 1989, a student named "Dread" Scott Tyler spread a Flag of the United States on the floor of the Institute as part of a piece entitled What Is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag? The piece consisted of a podium, set upon the flag, and containing a notebook for viewers to express how they felt about the exhibit. In order for viewers to write in the notebook, they would have to walk on the flag, which is a violation of customary practice and code. Viewers were occasionally arrested at the request of veterans.[13] The school stood by the student's art in the face of protests and threats. That year, the school's federal funding was cut from $70,000 to $1 and many benefactors pulled donations.

Academic freedom controversy

In 2017, a controversy arose after Michael Bonesteel, an adjunct professor specializing in outsider art, and comics, resigned after actions taken by the Institute following two Title IX complaints by transgender students being filed against him in which each criticized his comments and class discussion. The Institute initiated an investigation and took certain actions. Bonesteel described the SAIC investigation as a "Kafkaesque trial", in which he was never shown copies of the complaints. He claimed he was assumed to be "guilty until proven innocent" and that SAIC "feels more like a police state than a place where academic freedom and the open exchange of ideas is valued".[14]

Laura Kipnis, author of a book on Title IX cases in which she argues that universities follow reckless and capricious approaches, argued that SAIC was displaying "jawdropping cowardice".[15] She said, "The idea that students are trying to censor or curb a professor’s opinions or thinking is appalling".[15][16] The School said the claims made against it were "problematic" and "misleading", and that it supports academic freedom.[14]


This is a list of property in order of acquisition:

  • 280 South Columbus (classrooms, departmental offices, studios, Betty Rymer Gallery)
  • 37 South Wabash (classrooms, main administrative offices, Flaxman Library)
  • 112 South Michigan (classrooms, departmental offices, studios, ballroom)
  • 7 West Madison (student residences)
  • 162 North State (student residences)
  • 164 North State Street (Gene Siskel Film Center)
  • 116 South Michigan

SAIC also owns these properties outside of the immediate vicinity of the Chicago Loop:

SAIC leases:

  • 36 South Wabash, leasing the 12th floor (administrative offices, Architecture and Interior Architecture Design Center)
  • 36 South Wabash, leasing the 7th floor (Fashion Design department, Gallery 2)
  • 36 South Wabash, leasing offices on the 14th floor (administrative offices)
  • 36 South Wabash, leasing offices on the 15th floor (administrative offices)

Academic partnerships


  1. ^ (SAIC), School of the Art Institute of Chicago. "About: Enrollment - School of the Art Institute of Chicago". Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  2. ^ Dillon, Diane. "Art Institute of Chicago", Encyclopedia of Chicago
  3. ^ "SAIC Names Elissa Tenny President to Succeed Walter Massey, Effective July 1, 2016". Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  4. ^ "About: Enrollment". SAIC. Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  5. ^ "Babe Wave – freeradiosaic". Archived from the original on 2014-11-17. Retrieved 2014-03-18.
  6. ^ Tarun on August 22, 2011 (2011-08-22). "Cartoons On The Radio – freeradiosaic". Retrieved 2014-03-18.
  7. ^ andy on November 1, 2011 (2011-11-01). "Interview With Thomas Comerford – freeradiosaic". Retrieved 2014-03-18.
  8. ^ "The Visual Art Critic" (PDF). Columbia University National Arts Journalism Program. Retrieved 2010-11-11.
  9. ^ "2017 Best Graduate Fine Arts Programs". U.S. News and World Report. Archived from the original on 2017-03-14.
  10. ^ "What's the Buzz? Exclusive TrendTopper MediaBuzz Rankings (January 2013)".
  11. ^ a b c Matt O'Connor, " Suit Ended on Picture of Washington", Chicago Tribune, 21 September 1994; accessed 19 December 2018
  12. ^ Sneed, Michael (1988-07-04). "Untitled". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2008-02-08.
  13. ^ a b Dubin, Steven (1992). Arresting Images, Impolitic Art and Uncivil Actions. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-90893-0.
  14. ^ a b Roll, Nick (July 24, 2017). "Tensions in the Art Classroom". Inside Higher Ed.
  15. ^ a b Jori Finkel, "Art school under fire for bowing to transgender student complaints", The Art Newspaper, 18 August 2017; accessed 19 December 2018.
  16. ^ Tom Bartlett, "The Offender", The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 10, 2017. Available online to subscribers only.

External links

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Chicago Imagists

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Their work was known for grotesquerie, surrealism and complete uninvolvement with New York art world trends. Critic Ken Johnson referred to Chicago Imagism as "the postwar tradition of fantasy-based art making." Senior Chicago magazine editor Christine Newman said, "Even with the Beatles and the Vietnam War in the forefront, the artists made their own way, staking out their time, their place, and their work as an unforgettable happening in art history." The Imagists had an unusually high proportion of female artists.

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Along with Doc Films at the University of Chicago and the Block Museum of Northwestern University, the Film Center is one of Chicago's key revival houses, and hosts at least one major retrospective per month. Unlike Doc or Block, the Film Center also serves as a venue for first runs of foreign and independent films and is not student-run. Amongst other things, this means the Film Center maintains a year-round staff and does not cease operation when The School of the Art Institute closes for semester breaks.

The Film Center reportedly averages 1,500 screenings a year.

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