School of the Art Institute of Chicago
TypePrivate art school
Established1866 (1866)
PresidentElissa Tenny
Academic staff
141 full-time
427 part-time
Undergraduates2,894 (Fall 2018)[1]
Postgraduates745 (Fall 2018)
Location, ,
United States

41°52′46″N 87°37′26″W / 41.87944°N 87.62389°W / 41.87944; -87.62389
AffiliationsArt Institute of Chicago

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) is a private art school associated with the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) in Chicago, Illinois. 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 the association's founding in 1991. Additionally it is accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board. In a 2002 survey conducted by Columbia University's National Arts Journalism Program, SAIC was named the "most influential art school" in the United States.[2]

The school's 280 Columbus Avenue building in Grant Park, is attached to the museum and houses a premier gallery showcase.

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 shares many administrative resources such as design, construction, and human resources. The campus, located in the Loop, comprises chiefly five main buildings: the McLean Center (112 S. Michigan Ave.), the Michigan building (116 S Michigan Ave), the Sharp (36 S. Wabash Ave.), Sullivan Center (37 S. Wabash Ave.), and the Columbus (280 S. Columbus Dr.). SAIC also holds classes in the Spertus building at 610 S. Michigan. SAIC owns additional buildings throughout Chicago that are used as student galleries or investments. There are three dormitory facilities: The Buckingham, Jones Hall, and 162 N State Street residencies.


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.[3] The school grew to become among the "most influential" art schools in the United States.[4]

Walter E. Massey served as president, from 2010 until July 2016.[5] The current president is Elissa Tenny, who formerly served as the school's provost.[6]


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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.[7] 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 an interdisciplinary Low-Residency MFA for students wishing to study the fine arts and/or writing.

Chicago Architects Oral History Project

In 1983, the Department of Architecture began the Chicago Architects Oral History Project. More than 78 architects have contributed.[8][9]


As of fall 2018, the student enrollment at SAIC is demographically classified as follows:[10]

Total Enrollment: 3,640

Undergraduate students: 2,895

Graduate students: 745


Female: 74.3%

Male: 25.7%

International and ethnic origin:

International students: 33% (countries represented: 67)

United States students: 67%, further subdivided as follows:

White: 32.6%

Hispanic: 10.4%

Asian or Pacific Islander: 8.9%

African American: 3.3%

American Indian: 0.2%

Multiethnic: 2.8%

Not Specified: 8.4%

Geographic distribution of United States students:

Midwest: 41.2% (includes 8.8% from Chicago)

Northeast: 16.5%

West: 19.4%

South: 22.8%


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 showcases work in all media, including sound, video, performance, poetry, painting, and independent film; in addition to significant curators, critics, and art historians.[11][citation needed]

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.[12]

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, Trevor Paglen, and Sanford Biggers to name a few.[13][citation needed]


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.

F Newsmagazine

F Newsmagazine is SAIC's student-run newspaper. 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.

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.[15][16][17]

Student government

The student government of SAIC is unique in that its constitution requires four officers holding 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.


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.[2] The school has a graduation rate of 68%.[18]

In 2017,[19] U.S. News & World Report's college rankings 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.[20]

In 2020 and 2021, U.S. News & World Report[21] ranked SAIC as the second best overall graduate program for fine arts in the U.S. tied with Yale University. In 2021, the university was ranked the seventh globally according to the QS World University Rankings by the subject Art and Design.[22]

Notable people

Main article: School of the Art Institute of Chicago people

Notable professors included Contemporary Artists and leading Art Historians at SAIC include Nick Cave, James Elkins, Lisa Wainwright, Stephanie Brooks, Mary Jane Jacob, Frank Piatek, Edra Soto, Michelle Grabner, Jefferson Pinder, Adrian Wong, and Candida Alvarez.

Notable alumni include Ivan Albright, Thomas Hart Benton, Amanda Crowe, Megan Elizabeth Euker, Richard Hunt, Jeff Koons, Joan Mitchell, Georgia O'Keefe, Belle Silveira, Charles W. White, and Grant Wood.[23]


Mirth & Girth

Main article: 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.[24] The painting by David Nelson, titled Mirth & Girth, was of Washington clad only in women's underwear[25] and holding a pencil.[citation needed] Washington had died suddenly less than six months earlier, on November 25, 1987.[citation needed]

After the aldermen held the painting hostage, Police Superintendent LeRoy Martin ordered officers to take it into custody.[24] 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.[26] 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.[24]

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

In February 1989, as part of a piece entitled What Is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?, a student named "Dread" Scott Tyler spread a Flag of the United States on the floor of the institute. 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. While the exhibit faced protests from veterans and bomb threats, the school stood by the student's art.[26] That year, the school's state funding was cut from $70,000 to $1, and the piece was publicly condemned by President George H. W. Bush.[27] Scott would go on to be one of the defendants in United States v. Eichman, a Supreme Court case in which it was eventually decided that federal laws banning flag desecration were unconstitutional.[28]

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".[29]

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".[30] She said, "The idea that students are trying to censor or curb a professor’s opinions or thinking is appalling".[30][31] The school said the claims made against it were "problematic" and "misleading", and that it supports academic freedom.[29]


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. ^ "Quick Facts: Enrollment". School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). Retrieved 20 February 2019.
  2. ^ a b Szántó, András (2002). The Visual Arts Critic (PDF) (Report). NAJP/Columbia University. p. 50. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2022-10-09.
  3. ^ Dillon, Diane (2005). "Art Institute of Chicago". In Reiff, Janice L.; Keating, Ann Durkin; Grossman, James R. (eds.). The Encyclopedia of Chicago (Electronic ed.). Chicago Historical Society and Newberry Library.
  4. ^ Roeder, George H. Jr. (2005). "Artists, Education and Culture of". In Reiff, Janice L.; Keating, Ann Durkin; Grossman, James R. (eds.). The Encyclopedia of Chicago (Electronic ed.). Chicago Historical Society and Newberry Library.
  5. ^ "Walter Massey Named President Emeritus". June 28, 2018.
  6. ^ "SAIC Names Elissa Tenny President to Succeed Walter Massey, Effective July 1, 2016" (Press release). Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  7. ^ "Areas of Study". Retrieved 20 February 2019.
  8. ^ "Chicago Architects Oral History Project". The Art Institute of Chicago. Archived from the original on 24 April 2006. Retrieved 27 April 2022.
  9. ^ "Chicago Architects Oral History Project: General Information and Ordering Transcripts". The Art Institute of Chicago. Archived from the original on 16 February 2006. Retrieved 27 April 2022.
  10. ^ "About: Enrollment". SAIC. Retrieved 20 February 2019.
  11. ^ "Visiting Artists Program". Retrieved 20 February 2019.
  12. ^ "Visiting Artists Program: Past Events & Podcasts". School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved 2021-03-24.
  13. ^ "Past Events & Podcasts". Retrieved 20 February 2019.
  14. ^ School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2020-02-27). "SAIC Announces New Home for Its Iconic Galleries in Chicago's Loop". GlobeNewswire News Room (Press release). Retrieved 2021-07-21.
  15. ^ "Babe Wave". FreeRadioSAIC. Archived from the original on 2014-11-17. Retrieved 2014-03-18.
  16. ^ Tarun (2011-08-22). "Cartoons On The Radio". FreeRadioSAIC. Retrieved 2014-03-18.
  17. ^ andy (2011-11-01). "Interview With Thomas Comerford". FreeRadioSAIC. Retrieved 2014-03-18.
  18. ^ "Graduation and Retention Rates". School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved 2022-05-30.
  19. ^ "2017 Best Graduate Fine Arts Programs". U.S. News & World Report. Archived from the original on 2017-03-14.
  20. ^ "What's the Buzz? Exclusive TrendTopper MediaBuzz Rankings (January 2013)".
  21. ^ "Best Fine Arts Schools". U.S. News & World Report.
  22. ^ "QS World University Rankings by Subject 2021: Art & Design". 13 May 2024.
  23. ^ [bare URL]
  24. ^ a b c Matt O'Connor (21 September 1994). "Suit Ended on Picture of Washington". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on December 21, 2018. Retrieved 19 December 2018.
  25. ^ "ACLU jumps into 'Mirth and Girth' art controversy". United Press International. Chicago. May 13, 1988. Retrieved February 21, 2022. The American Civil Liberties Union threatened to sue Chicago police because of the seizure of a painting depicting the late Mayor Harold Washington wearing women's underwear.
  26. ^ a b Dubin, Steven (1992). Arresting Images, Impolitic Art and Uncivil Actions. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-90893-0.
  27. ^ Campbell, Adrianna (9 January 2017). "Banner Year: At a Time of Heated Race Relations in America, Dread Scott Wades Into the Fray". ARTnews. Retrieved 11 June 2020.
  28. ^ Cohen, Alina (July 25, 2018). "It's Legal to Burn the American Flag. This Artist Helped Make It A Form of Free Speech". Artsy. Retrieved 11 June 2020.
  29. ^ a b Roll, Nick (July 24, 2017). "Tensions in the Art Classroom". Inside Higher Ed.
  30. ^ a b Jori Finkel (18 August 2017). "Art school under fire for bowing to transgender student complaints". The Art Newspaper. Retrieved 19 December 2018.
  31. ^ Tom Bartlett, "The Offender", The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 10, 2017. Available online to subscribers only.
  32. ^ News Desk (2020-03-02). "SAIC'S GALLERIES WILL MOVE TO NEW 62,000-SQUARE-FOOT HOME". Artforum. Retrieved 2023-12-13.