School of the Art Institute of Chicago

School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Type Private art school
Established 1866 (1866)
Chancellor Walter E. Massey
President Elissa Tenny
Academic staff
141 full-time
427 part-time
Undergraduates 2,842 (Fall 2015)[1]
Postgraduates 748 (Fall 2015)
Location Chicago, IL, USA
41°52′46″N 87°37′26″W / 41.87944°N 87.62389°W / 41.87944; -87.62389Coordinates: 41°52′46″N 87°37′26″W / 41.87944°N 87.62389°W / 41.87944; -87.62389
Campus Urban
Affiliations 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 two 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.

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.


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]

Since 2010, the president has been Walter E. Massey who transitioned to become school chancellor in July, 2016. The new president is Elissa Tenny the school's current 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; time arts (time-based media); video; visual communication; visual and critical studies; and writing. SAIC also serves as a resource for issues related to the position and importance of the arts in society.

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

SAIC also offers low-residency master's degree programs in Studio and Writing.

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.

The primary mission of the program is to educate and foster a greater understanding and appreciation of contemporary art through discourse. VAP maintains a long-standing commitment to ethnic and gender diversity; it has been at the forefront of the movement toward a more socially engaged and theoretically informed aesthetic dialogue.

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.


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, and is also online.

It was awarded Best in Overall Design by the Student Society of News Design in its 2012 design contest, as well as a number of other awards for its designers.

In recent years, F Newsmagazine has won the Pacemaker Award and Online Pacemaker Award from the Associated Collegiate Press and Newspaper Association of America, as well as Silver and Gold Crown awards from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association and Best Website from the Illinois College Press Association.

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.

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.[4][5][6]

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.[7]

In 2012, US News ranked SAIC the second 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. [8]

Notable people


"Mirth & Girth"

Main article: Mirth & Girth

On May 11, 1988, a student painting depicting Harold Washington, the first black mayor of Chicago, was torn down by some of the city's African-American aldermen — over the protests of many who attempted to block them — based on its content. The painting, titled "Mirth & Girth" by David Nelson, was of Washington clad only in women's underwear holding a pencil.[9] Washington had died on November 25, 1987.

The painting was returned after a day, and 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. Nelson ended up receiving a monetary settlement for damage to the painting which occurred during its confiscation.[10]

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

In February 1989, a student named "Dread" Scott Tyler draped the Flag of the United States across the floor for a piece titled "What Is The Proper Way To Display A U.S. Flag?" The piece consisted of a podium with a notebook for viewers to express how they felt about the exhibit. However, the podium was set upon a flag laid on the floor. In order for viewers to write in the notebook, they would have to walk on the flag. Viewers were occasionally arrested at the request of veterans.[10] 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.


This is a list of property in order of acquisition:

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

SAIC leases:

Academic partnerships


  1. Enrollment
  2. Dillon, Diane. "Art Institute of Chicago", Encyclopedia of Chicago
  4. "Babe Wave – freeradiosaic". Retrieved 2014-03-18.
  5. Tarun on August 22, 2011 (2011-08-22). "Cartoons On The Radio – freeradiosaic". Retrieved 2014-03-18.
  6. andy on November 1, 2011 (2011-11-01). "Interview With Thomas Comerford – freeradiosaic". Retrieved 2014-03-18.
  7. "The Visual Art Critic" (PDF). Columbia University National Arts Journalism Program. Retrieved 2010-11-11.
  8. "What's the Buzz? Exclusive TrendTopper MediaBuzz Rankings (January 2013)".
  9. Sneed, Michael (1988-07-04). "Untitled". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2008-02-08.
  10. 1 2 Dubin, Steven (1992). Arresting Images, Impolitic Art and Uncivil Actions. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-90893-0.

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