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School of the Art Institute of Chicago

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago is one of America's premiere fine arts colleges, located in Chicago, Illinois. It is associated with the museum of the same name, The Art Institute of Chicago, but is not related to, nor should be confused with, the chain of schools known as The Art Institutes. SAIC is a professional college for the visual and related arts, accredited since 1936 by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, and since 1944 (charter member) by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. It is currently seeking accreditation from the National Architectural Accrediting Board as well.

Its downtown Chicago campus consists of five buildings located in the immediate vicinity of the Art Institute of Chicago's building. SAIC is in an equal partnership with the Art Institute of Chicago and share many administrative resources such as design, construction, and human resources. The president of the school is Tony Jones.


In 1866, a group of 35 artists founded the Chicago Academy of Design in a studio on Dearborn Street, with the intent to run a free school with its own art gallery. The organization was modeled after European art academies, such as the Royal Academy, with Academians and Associate Academians. The Academy's charter was granted in March 1867.

Classes started in 1868, meeting every day at a cost of $10 per month. The Academy's success enabled it to build a new home for the school, a five story stone building on 66 West Adams Street, which opened on November 22, 1870.

When the Great Chicago Fire destroyed the building in 1871 the Academy was thrown into debt. Attempts to continue despite of the loss, using rented facilities, failed. By 1878, the Academy was $10,000 in debt. Members tried to rescue the ailing institution by making deals with local businessmen, before some finally abandoned it in 1879 to found a new organization, named the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. When the Chicago Academy of Design went bankrupt the same year, the new Chicago Academy of Fine Arts bought its assets at auction.

In 1882, the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts changed its name to the current Art Institute of Chicago. The same year, they purchased a lot on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Van Buren Avenue for $45,000. The property's building was leased, and a new building was constructed behind it to house the school's facilities.

With the announcement of the World's Columbian Exposition to be held in 1892–93, the Art Institute pressed for a building on the lakefront to be constructed for the fair, but to be used by the Institute afterwards. The city agreed, and the building was completed in time for the second year of the fair. Construction costs were paid by selling the Michigan/Van Buren property. On October 31, 1893, the Institute moved into the new building. From the 1900s to the 1960s the school offered with the Logan Family (members of the board) the Logan Medal of the arts, an award which became one of the most distinguished awards presented to artists in the US.

Between 1959 and 1970, the Institute was a key site in the battle to gain art & documentary photography a place in galleries, under curator Hugh Edwards and his assistants.

In 2006, the Art Institute began construction of "The Modern Wing", an addition situated on the southwest corner of Columbus and Monroe. Completion of the project, designed by Pritzker Prize winning architect Renzo Piano, is scheduled for 2009.


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.

For 2008, U.S. News & World Report ranked the SAIC third best overall graduate program for fine arts in the U.S.

Notable Alumni

Notable Faculty


Mirth & Girth

On May 11, 1988, a student painting of 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. 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.

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

In February 1989, a student named "Dread" Scott Tyler draped the American flag 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.

The school stood by the student's display 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. Later on, the school would refuse to allow him to display the piece at his BFA thesis exhibition.

The piece has been displayed throughout numerous galleries in the country after this incident including the show "Our Aim Is To Destroy Them!" by the Near NorthWest Arts Council Gallery in 1988.

Dread Scott is often associated with David Nelson due to time between the works, but Scott distances himself from Nelson and has been quoted saying, "[Nelson] doesn't mind promoting racism, doesn't mind promoting homophobia, doesn't mind promoting, you know, the oppression of women. I want to liberate people from all of that.


SAIC offers a broad range of fine arts degrees and is interdisciplinary; a selected course of concentration is not necessary.

Departments of Study

Architecture, interior architecture and designed objects
Art education
Art therapy
Art history, theory, and criticism
Art and technology studies
Design for emerging technologies

  • Interactive Design
  • Computer Programming
  • Web Design

Fashion design
Fiber and material studies

  • Weaving
  • Print for materials
  • Dye

Film, Video & New Media
First year program (foundation dept. for undergraduates)

  • 2D - any media limited to two dimensions.
  • 3D - any media limited to three dimensions.
  • 4D - any media that incorporates time.
  • Research Studio

Liberal arts

  • English
  • Humanities
  • Languages
  • Liberal Arts
  • Sciences
  • Social Sciences

Painting and drawing

  • Silkscreen
  • Offset printing
  • Etching
  • Lithography
  • Digital output
  • Book binding


  • Metal work
  • Foundry
  • Wood

Visual communication

  • Graphic Design
  • Information Design
  • Typographic Design
  • Package Design

Visual and critical studies

Undergraduate Degree Programs

B.A. in Visual and Critical Studies
B.F.A. in Studio Arts
B.F.A. with an emphasis in Writing
B.F.A. with an emphasis in art History, Theory, and Criticism
B.F.A. with an emphasis in Art Education
B.I.A. Bachelor of Interior Architecture

Graduate Degree Programs

M.F.A. in Studio Arts
M.F.A. in Writing
M.F.A. in New Arts Journalism
M.A. in Modern Art History, Theory, and Criticism.
M.A. in Art Education
M.A. in Teaching
M.A. in Art Therapy
M.A. in Arts Administration and Policy
M.A. in Visual and Critical Studies
M.S. in Historic Preservation
Master of Architecture
Master of Architecture with an emphasis in Interior Architecture
Master of Design in Designed Objects
Master of Design in Fashion, Body, Garment

Other Degrees

Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Fashion, Body, Garment
Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Studio Arts
Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Writing
Graduate Certificate in Art History, Theory, and Criticism

Grading System

SAIC does not utilize a standard grading system. All academics are marked as credit no credit meaning C or above is pass, and below a C is fail. It is a practice intended by the school to encourage exploration and growth without worry for failure at the bias of a professor. Most students are drawn to this unconventional structure since art cannot always be graded like traditional academics. This grading system is dependent upon a student's personal ambition and requires more effort from the student as there are no marks for the student to use as academic measures or comparisons to peers.

Campus Life

The main campus is set in downtown Chicago, also known as the loop. The school uses three main buildings which are the Michigan (112 S. Michigan), the Sharp (37 S. Wabash), and the Columbus (280 S. Columbus). The school also has additional buildings throughout Chicago that are used student galleries or investments.


  • Betty Rymer Gallery - The Betty Rymer gallery is named in honor of Betty Rymer, the late wife of School Board of Governors member Barry Rymer. In 1989, Mr. Rymer made a major contribution to the School's Advancement Program and the gallery is a dedication to her memory and interests. It is located in the 280 S. Columbus building. It is run similarly to Gallery 2, but the process for exhibition is less intense with more student workers involved. Since it is on campus, it also receives more student traffic.
  • Gallery 2 - Gallery 2 was an offsite space offered through their 847 W. Jackson building. It was run by the school's brilliant non-teaching faculty and stellar student workers. The gallery also hosted annually the Undergraduate and Graduate Thesis exhibitions also known respectively as the BFA and MFA shows. During the rest of the year, it was the most advanced undergraduate and graduate student program for showing work as the process for exhibition mimics professional galleries.
  • Student Union Galleries (LG Space, Gallery X) - The Student Union Galleries (SUGs) is the school's fully student-run gallery system. Paid student directors maintain the galleries with assistance from a faculty adviser. A volunteer student committee assists in maintenance and the selection of exhibitions. They have two locations: LG Spaceof the 37 S. Wabash building; and Gallery X of the 280 S. Columbus building. The two locations allow the galleries to cycle two shows simultaneously, with three shows per semester. They also maintain their own website.

Student Organizations


ExTV is a student-run volunteer television station. Its broadcasts are available via monitors located throughout the 112 S. Michigan building, the 37 S Wabash building and in cable-ready areas of the 162 N. State and 7 W. Madison residence halls. As a closed-circuit station, it is not available off-campus.

F Newsmagazine

FNews 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 a student-run volunteer internet radio station.

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.

Student groups

  • Agape - Christian student group
  • AIGA Student Group - A chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts.
  • AIAS Student Group - A chapter of the American Institute of Architecture Students.
  • Art History Visiting Lecturer Committee - a group that brings in 3rd party art history lecturers.
  • At Home World Wide Fashion Society - a group concentrating on global fashion trends.
  • Base Space Committee - This committee manages the Base Space Gallery, Sculpture Courtyard, and Display Case in the Sculpture Department of the Columbus Building.
  • Belly Dancing Group
  • Body Revolution - an exercise group with a focus on non-traditional practices
  • Escape Chicago - group focusing on excursions outside of Chicago
  • Eye & Ear Clinic - free, bi-weekly screening series run by (FVNM) Film Video News Media students.
  • Grounded - an environmental group
  • Hillel - a chapter of the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life
  • Incarnation - Christian student group
  • Jamboree Wednesday - improvised music group
  • Korean Graduate Student Community
  • Korean Students Association (KSA)
  • NAEA Student Group - a chapter of the National Art Education Association
  • Performance Art Society
  • Photographic Graduate Committee on Visiting Artists - a group that brings in 3rd party photographers.
  • Platypus - a group that concentrates on reexamining Marxist critical theory through reading groups and forums
  • SAIC/AVU Collaborative: Heart Club - group helps to facilitate funding and curriculum about study trips and new exchange students
  • Shifted Wires - a student group introducing new information and technologies
  • SMART Art/Gallery- residence hall group designed to provide residence hall students with art opportunities
  • SMART Community - resident hall group used to connect students with each other and with the greater Chicago community
  • SOAP - a philosophy discussion group
  • Students Against War and Injustice - originally No! Iraq, it is a student activist group with a focus on war issues
  • Students For Sexual Diversity - group promoting sexual diversity and tolerance
  • Students With Abundant Materials (SWAM) - a group concerned with sustainability and recycling materials
  • Taiwanese Student Association
  • The 13th Floor - an open student group focusing on visual communications
  • Veggies Unite! - vegetarian organization


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, Special Events Ballroom)
  • 7 West Madison (Student Residences)
  • 162 North State (Student Residences)
  • 164 North State Street (Gene Siskel Film Center)

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

  • 1926 North Halsted (Gallery Space) in Chicago. A property donated by artist Roger J. Brown.
  • The Oxbow Property (Retreat Facility) in Oxbow, Michigan

The School 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)

External links


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