San Francisco’s Top Art School Plans Closing After Almost 150 Years ~ NYT

Efforts to save the alma mater of Annie Leibovitz and Kehinde Wiley collapsed as the coronavirus sent the Bay Area on lockdown.

Credit…Diana Cheng/Getty Images


The San Francisco Art Institute will not accept students for the fall semester after almost 150 years in operation, ending the legacy of a once-storied school that produced famous artists like Annie Leibovitz, Kehinde Wiley and Catherine Opie.

The institute announced Monday in a schoolwide letter that it plans to suspend classes after the spring semester. Graduating students will receive their degrees in May, but faculty and staff were told to prepare for mass layoffs. One senior official close to the decision-making process said the school was likely to close because of mounting debt.

“We are looking down the barrel of a gun,” Gordon Knox, the college president, told faculty during a town-hall meeting in late February. Like many art schools across the country, declining enrollment and financial hardships have plagued the institution for years. In 2017, S.F.A.I. spent millions on a second campus on the city’s waterfront. This year, the school abandoned another costly project to build new dormitories. The final straw for the faltering institution was when discussions to merge with a local university collapsed after the coronavirus sent the Bay Area into a lockdown. Pam Rorke Levy, the institute board’s chair, estimated the university’s total debt was around $19 million but likely to increase because the school is not earning revenue during the health crisis.

“While we remain hopeful there is a strategic partnership that will allow this commitment to continue,” Mr. Knox wrote to students and faculty on Monday, “we are realistic that this will not happen any time soon in the face of an unprecedented global pandemic.”

The school is currently closed because of the coronavirus. Students learned it was facing closure as they sheltered in place and adjusted to sometimes-haphazard online instruction in studio art and sculpture. “What institution is going take me now during coronavirus?” asked Rebecca Sexton, a 28-year-old pursuing a dual-degree graduate program. “It’s hard to know what exactly will happen,” added Ms. Sexton, who was expecting to start writing her master’s thesis next year.

Corinna Kirsch, an art history lecturer, said, “I’m really sad that a vibrant community where you could still see artists walking around barefoot on campus has come to an end.” Founded in 1871, S.F.A.I. claims to be the only fine arts school dedicated to contemporary art. It gained an illustrious reputation on the West Coast for courting faculty members like the photographers Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange and Edward Weston.

In 1931, the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera painted “The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City” in the school’s gallery. Faced with its current financial crisis, administrators have floated the idea of selling the Rivera fresco, which has been appraised for $50 million. “When you have an asset that’s that valuable,” Ms. Levy explained, “there’s always a discussion.”

“As a small college in an expensive town we are feeling the pain,” she added.

The San Francisco Art Institute joined a growing list of more than a dozen art schools across America that have faced bankruptcy in the last year. In February, the Watkins College of Art made headlines when it announced a planned merger with Belmont University, a Christian institution in Nashville — a decision that led students and professors to protest over concerns about freedom of expression.

“Every art school is dealing with economic hardship in one degree or another,” said Massimo Pacchione, who was the school’s director of student experience until being laid off this week. “Education is increasingly seen more as an engine for economic advancement rather than a pursuit of passion.”

Don Frank starring in Federico Fellini’s new film, “Paradiso Forzato’/Paradise Forced


Leading man and rŌbert Colombian roving correspondent and ‘The Man in the Taganga Hotel’


I had a conversation with our friend Frank Coffey today while wandering around while  my wife shopped at the market keeping me out of the fracas.  

We chatted while the cook made him breakfast.  Paco didn’t make it out of Paradiso on the last flight to the U.S.  Living in Colombia for the winter he was going to return to Colorado to pick up his tool bag and return to Portillo Chile for the upcoming winter as their Avalanchero.  But the universal pandemic came on.

Frank’s hotel was shut down a few days ago because the owners were mysteriously behind with the bank. The devolution of the hotel had begun with all the furniture being removed except for his pinche little room with bed and chair…

Paco being Paco went out, hired a cook since the hotel cocinaro had left without pay.  Frank can’t leave the hotel except once a week to go shopping and only when a certain number comes up matching his passport. And of course his lady friends have to skulk after dark to scratch on his screen.  Strange, but with the military running the show and Colombians used to military governments running the show, life just moves along more smoothly than in American … less autonomy, less questioning.




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Werner Herzog has never thought a dog was cute. NYT

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In the more than 50 years since his first feature film, the director Werner Herzog has come to seem more and more like one of the existentially inclined dreamers who populate his work. Those adventurous and often ontologically fuzzy works include art-house classics like “Fitzcarraldo” and “Aguirre, the Wrath of God,” as well as highly stylized documentaries like “Grizzly Man,” “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” and his latest, “Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin,” about the late travel writer. Herzog, who is 77, has also developed into a compellingly portentous on-screen acting presence, including as a villain in the Disney+ “Star Wars” spinoff series “The Mandalorian” — the latest twist in a career gloriously lacking in the mundane. “How do we give meaning to our lives?” Herzog said. “That question has been lingering over my work and life. That’s what I’ve been pursuing for a very long time.”

A lot of your films deal with apocalyptic themes and imagery. At the risk of overstating things, what effect might something like coronavirus have on your — and our — imagination? That’s a good question. We may see another Boccaccio’s “The Decameron” — it’s the time of the plague in Florence, and everybody flees to the countryside into exile, and then the storytelling begins. So you may have the origin of imagination or culture. But I can’t predict how I’m going to respond to coronavirus. Everybody, in a way, will have to respond.

Are you anxious about it? No. It’s a question of discipline. You just anticipate what might come at you and be prepared even for, let’s say, a quarantine of the Hollywood Hills, where I live. You need to be prepared and logical and professional.

Your narration, in

for example, is famous for your descriptions of nature as impersonal and savage. The monumental indifference.

Why are you inclined to interpret nature that way rather than, say, in the more cosmically harmonious manner of the Dalai Lama? You interviewed him for

I advise you to go outside on a clear night and look out into the universe. It seems utterly indifferent to what we are doing. Now we are taking a very close look at the sun with a space probe. Look at the utmost hostility of the hundreds of millions of atomic bombs going off at the same time in its interior. So my personal interpretation of nature comes from taking a quick look at the stars.

How do you derive meaning from life if life is indifferent? Life is not indifferent. The universe is indifferent. But just trying, itself, is something I should do.

Klaus Kinski in “Aguirre, The Wrath of God” in 1972. Everett Collection

It always seemed so weird to me that you live in Los Angeles. You’re someone who believes in the almost spiritual importance of traveling on foot, and this is a city where no one walks. But that would be strolling or ambling. I’ve never been into that. I see how you are looking at me.

How am I looking at you? With bemused skepticism.

I didn’t mean to convey skepticism. You’ve talked in the past about your desire for your documentaries to

— or deeper truth — rather than what you’ve called “the truth of accountants.” Does anything about the need for ecstatic truth feel different now, at a time when even factual truth feels destabilized? I’ll make it very simple. My witness is Michelangelo, who did the statue of the Pietà. When you look at Jesus taken down from the cross, it’s the tormented face of a 33-year-old man. You look at the face of his mother: His mother is 17. So let me ask: Did Michelangelo give us fake news? Defraud us? Lie to us? I’m doing exactly the same. You have to know the context in which you become inventive.

Does ecstatic truth have any connection to morality? Invented truth or facts can serve a dubious purpose. What I do serves a purpose, and that is to elate us, to lift us up, to give us a sense of something sublime. Ekstasis in ancient Greek means to step outside yourself. All of a sudden, we have a glimpse of something deeper that might be behind the images. Something like an ecstasy of truth.

When I was in touch with you about doing this interview, you said you’ve had issues with articles about you being inaccurate. Do you remember that? Yeah, sure. Inaccuracy always happens.


~~~  CONTINUE  ~~~

Frank Coffey living somewhere between a Kafka novel and Márquez’s “A Hundred Years of Solitude”

My compay, Don Frank has been in Colombia the past three months honing his retirement skills after leaving Crested Butte Ski Corp as their main Avalanchero for many years.  He’s going to concentrate his attention exclusively on snow problems in Portillo Chile.  But with the drama of this pandemic he’s trapped in paradise unable to return to the states so in Don Frank style he’s living the life at a beautiful beach community entertaining the local female population and sipping cold beers with his friends.. Salud compay!
Hey amigos!
I am not allowed to leave the country. I will not be coming back anytime soon. It’s been exciting and very much like  a “100 Years of Solitude” dream here of late. Welcome to Gabriel Garcia Marguez’s country, Colombia. ” I don’t believe in God, but I’m afraid of Him”…thanks Gabo.
I traveled to the border with Venezuela on Tuesday to fix a visa problem and, well, that story is so surreal  it demands an oral narrative.
The beaches in Colombia are closed. You can walk the beach, but not go in the water….kinda like Chile where people are on the beach, but not in the water (see the before and after photos of the beach).
The one with the crowds is from Sunday three days ago.
The second image of a girl walking on the beach at sunset is from today.
The hotel where I am staying in Taganga is closing in two days. The bars are closed.
IMG_0029.jpegAttached is a photo of my friend, Andres, and me in a bar where we used to drink, cheapest beers(50 cents) in town.  He has my back. I have been Taganga for three months and have never seen another gringo in that bar…that’s why it’s my bar? Vallento music and cold beer, a perfect marriage.
Restaurants are open until 7:00, but not for much longer.  This seedy, little beach town where I have been hanging out for the past three months is shutting down…and I will be staying here at a friend’s hotel and not going to Santa Marta. I think that it might be my best month ever in Colombia. I miss you guys!
Salud amigos
Don Frank

Don Milagro y Bean-field Oyama-san

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Don “Milagro”, “Bean-field” Oyama-san y art groupie “Seldom Seen” Bob gathered at Bean-field’s opening 
photo credit, Lisa Iceberg


Don “Milagro” Roberts
Are you

Hunkered down

Sheltered in place
Self quarantined
Socially distanced

Low on toilet paper & hand sanitizer?

How dare they include me in the “most vulnerable” category. I never signed up for that. Don’t care to join.

But worse than all that, they closed the ski lifts today. Bastids.
John Nichols in Taos. Cool. How did you recognize him? Was he stealing books? Great bar photos, great hand-painted signs.
“Bean-field” Oyama-san



ran into John Nichols today in Taos


rŌbert and John Nichols

IMG_4939  Owner of The Brodsky Bookshop, Rick Smith



One of the great bookshops in the southwest, it’s like a fine vino tinto, all hand picked by Rick.  If in Taos drop by, you won’t be disappointed.


John’s latest work just published.

Frida Kahlo in ‘Gringolandia’ ~ NYT

Credit…Imogen Cunningham Trust


The Creative Awakening of a Great Artist
By Celia Stahr

It’s said that Frida Kahlo’s status in popular culture resembles a cross between a cult and a brand. At a time when oven mitts stamped with her likeness are found in museum gift shops, and her prosthetic leg is displayed like a saint’s relic in exhibitions, it’s hard to imagine Kahlo as an unknown artist at the start of her career. During the Depression, when she began to invent the flamboyant forms of identification with the Indigenous Mexicanidad for which she became famous, one could not have foreseen the current extent of Fridamania — our fascination with her carefully constructed personal mythos. (At some point she even changed her birth date from 1907 to 1910, the start of the Mexican Revolution, and elided the “e” in “Frieda” to make her name more authentically Mexican.)

It’s intriguing to encounter an artist in the act of becoming herself, and in “Frida in America,” Celia Stahr aims to do just that, returning us to Kahlo’s early days in San Francisco, New York and Detroit in the 1930s, when she and her husband, the artist Diego Rivera, were newlyweds. While Rivera was absorbed in painting large-scale social realist tableaus, Kahlo began fashioning modes of self-presentation in implicit opposition to the capitalist values of their host country, then painting canvases in the same style, marking major steps in her “creative awakening.”

Stahr, who teaches art history at the University of San Francisco, bases her narrative on the diary of Lucienne Bloch, a woman who became Kahlo’s confidante in the United States, as well as on correspondence between Kahlo and her family back in Mexico, beginning her book with the artist’s arrival with Rivera in San Francisco in 1930. There, Frida came to see her mixed heritage (she had a German father and a Mexican mother) as a source of distinction and started to develop the image of the mestiza in her appearance and work as an icon of Mexican national identity.

She did this first in her dress, emphasizing her “outsider status” to distinguish herself from Americans, who incurred her ongoing hostility. (Letters to her mother made an exception for San Francisco’s Chinese: They too were outsiders, their costumes and festivities “simpáticos.”) In a work from this period, “Portrait of Eva Frederick,” Kahlo painted her African-American subject as both “an independent ‘New Woman’” and a “New Negro,” Stahr writes. Moreover, she had Frederick dress in a “Mexican-looking” garment, suggesting that Kahlo saw something of herself in her model.

Her 1931 canvas “Frieda and Diego Rivera,” often called a wedding portrait, depicts the artist as a diminutive but proud campesina — “a nationalist image,” Stahr notes, intended for an American audience — next to her imposingly large husband. Presenting herself in her painting as the wife of a famous artist, the 23-year-old Kahlo had begun confronting head-on “the complexity of being a stranger in a strange land.”

The complexities of the Riveras’ relations with America intensified when they moved to New York, where the Museum of Modern Art wanted to host a retrospective of Diego’s work. The contrast between the high society with whom they often socialized and the ordinary citizens suffering the effects of the Depression shocked Frida. She complained in a letter to her mother of “the horrible poverty here and the millions of people who have no work, food or home,” adding, of Diego, “Unfortunately, he has to work for these filthy rich asses.”

In New York, the couple were lionized by artists and photographers. As Imogen Cunningham and Edward Weston had done in San Francisco, Carl Van Vechten photographed Frida in Tehuana garb, depicting her with a touch of the “noble savage.” She played an important part in these sessions through her choice of costumes: “Whether they involved men’s clothing or the Indigenous styles of Mexico, she was bringing out an aspect of her complicated self.”

‘Manhattan Is A Lenape Word,’ And Other Poems Looking At Native Americans’ Struggles ~ NPR


  • NPR’s Leila Fadel talks with author and poet Natalie Diaz about her new book, Postcolonial Love Poems.

~~~  LISTEN  ~~~


Natalie Diaz is a Mojave American poet, language activist, former professional basketball player, and educator.

Natalie Diaz was born in Needles, California.[2] She grew up in the Fort Mojave Indian Village in Needles, California, on the border of California, Arizona, and Nevada. She attended Old Dominion University where she played point guard on the women’s basketball team, reaching the NCAA Final Four as a freshman and the bracket of sixteen her other three years. She earned a bachelor’s degree. After playing professional basketball in Europe and Asia, she returned to Old Dominion University, and completed an MFA in poetry and fiction, in 2006.



MacArthur ‘Genius’ Poet Natalie Diaz Tackles Issues Facing Native Americans


Poet Natalie Diaz speaks with NPR’s Shereen Marisol Meraji about being selected for a MacArthur “Genius” Grant. Her work focuses on social justice issues and her Mojave and Latina heritage.


The 2018 MacArthur genius grants were awarded last week, and we’ve been spending some time on the program with a few of the recipients. Today, we’ll hear from poet Natalie Diaz. Raised on the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation in California, her work draws on her Mojave and Latinx heritage. Diaz has also been doing work to preserve the Mojave language. First of all, congratulations. Felicitaciones are in order.

NATALIE DIAZ: Yeah. It’s been pretty lucky (laughter).

MERAJI: Natalie Diaz is not one to brag. She told me that when she picked up the phone and heard the news that she was one of the 25 people given a $625,000 genius grant, her brain refused to believe it.

DIAZ: I don’t know. I’m kind of a pessimist. So I start thinking, like, how did I earn this? What did I do to deserve this?

MERAJI: Well, she published a critically acclaimed poetry collection in 2012 called “When My Brother Was an Aztec.” The poems are intimate and personal and address problems indigenous communities face in this country – poverty, addiction and deep family trauma.

Did you bring any poems with you?

DIAZ: Yeah…

MERAJI: Not to put you on the spot, But I would love to hear one…

DIAZ: No, I did.


DIAZ: I’ll just – I’ll read this poem. This – it’s a poem called “These Hands, If Not Gods.” So a lot of my new work is love poems. (Reading) These hands, if not Gods. Haven’t they moved – like rivers, like glory, like light – over the seven days of your body? And wasn’t that good, them at your hips? Isn’t this what God felt when he pressed together the first Beloved – everything. Fever. Vapor. Atman. Pulsus. Finally…

I don’t think America expects brown women, queer women, you know, to speak about desire, to consider the autonomy of desire – you know? – and, God forbid, a word like pleasure. And so, for me, these poems feel really important to give myself a voice and a place where I’m more possible. And one of the ways I’m more possible is that I allow myself, you know, these types of tendernesses and loves.

(Reading) These hands, if not God’s, then why when you have come to me and I have returned you to that from which you came – bright mud, mineral salt – why, then, do you whisper O, my Hecatonchire, my Centimani, my hundred-handed one?

MERAJI: In that poem, you’ve managed to incorporate all of who you are. I feel like I heard all of that in that poem. You’re indigenous. You’re Latinx. You’re queer. Is all your work like that? Are you able to bring all of those selves into your work, or do you feel, sometimes, where you have to choose one or the other?

DIAZ: It’s lucky. I have this freedom. It’s a freedom where I don’t have to worry about my audience. A lot of the way I’ve come to poetry is – has been the way that I existed in basketball.

MERAJI: And we didn’t say that you were a former professional basketball player.

DIAZ: Yeah. That was like my first job. And so, for me, it’s – you know, like, I don’t know that there’s a place where I’ve been more possible than on a basketball court. I can be everything I was, and it was also a place beyond what I was. So, you know, basketball’s a game of futurity – is one of the ways I think about it. You’re always two steps ahead. You’re always, you know, moving with this kind of momentum or pushing back against a momentum. And poetry, to me, feels a lot like that. I feel tension, and I feel pressure. And I feel excitement. And, you know, it’s – luckily, I’m able to find this new space of the page, where I can question and wonder about all of the things that I’m wondering in regard to language.

MERAJI: Your work is in English. And where does that fit, for you, in thinking about language and where you fit and how you belong?

DIAZ: In a way, it’s the language I know best and I trust least. You can’t hide from language. Like, in every word, the violence that that language has carried or the violence that language has enacted is carried in that word. That is, one of the powers of poetry is that I can use Spanish when that’s the word I feel in my body. I can use Mojave language here when I feel it, you know? To be able to call myself who I am in Mojave is for me to call myself into existence in a way, whereas for me to say Native American, you know – which we all say for clarity’s sake. But for me to say Native American, in a way, I’m already erasing myself, you know? Because what I am is something that is, yes, part of this America but also something else, something more, something that America hasn’t quite been able to consume fully.


Armageddon in New Mexico: John Nichols in Taos ~ an old video from 2011.

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~~~  WATCH  ~~~

John Nichols, author of “The Milagro Beanfield War,” gives a talk titled “Armageddon and New Mexico” Jan. 20, 2011 at the University of New Mexico’s Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, NM USA. The talk chronicles the 40 some years in humor and pathos the life and times Nichols has experienced in Taos. The talk also coincides with an exhibition of Calaveras prints by Nichols on view at the museum. Video was shot and edited by Rick Romancito for The Taos News Media Center,