A Diego Rivera mural that was in danger of being sold to help fund the shrunken endowment of its owner, the beleaguered San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI), will instead be restored, thanks to a $200,000 grant issued for the purpose by the Mellon Foundation. The iconic 1931 work, titled The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City and depicting workers atop a wooden scaffold creating a fresco showing a city being built, will remain at the school’s Chestnut Street campus, where it will undergo a multiphase presrvation. The Mellon Foundation money will additionally support public programming and scholarship related to the work, as well as the digitizing of associated archival material, including the blueprints of the scaffolding used to create the mural. The Diego Rivera Fresco Program is being overseen by art historian Zoya Kocur, who has helmed educational efforts at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the New Museum, both in New York.
“The Diego Rivera mural occupies an essential and profoundly meaningful place in the culture and history of SFAI and San Francisco,” said SFAI board chair Lonnie Graham in a statement. Grant, noting that the funding will allow the school to “elevate how we share the mural with the public by expanding cultural discourse and creating a broadly inclusive platform for social and academic collaboration.”
SFAI, one of the country’s oldest and most prestigious art schools, has struggled to stay open for the past two years, thanks to the triple whammy of declining enrollment, millions in expansion-related debt, and temporary closure and layoffs forced by the Covid-19 crisis. The school in summer 2020 reversed an announced decision to close, but still sought to cover $19 million in operating costs. The proposed $50 million sale of mural, which was recently landmarked by the city of San Francisco, sparked controversy and also drew the interest of buyers, including that of Star Wars filmmaker George Lucas, who reportedly wanted the work for his Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Los Angeles.