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150 Years of SAIC

Celebrating 150 years of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago

In 2016, SAIC commemorated its 150th Anniversary with a yearlong celebration. See our events, programs, and exhibitions.

Explore the timeline

For the past 150 years, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) has been a leader in educating artists, designers, and scholars. As you will see from this timeline, SAIC's history is interwoven with the Art Institute of Chicago and the city itself.

Shane Mecklenburger (MFA 2009), The End & Beginning of Everything


Led by local artists Charles Peck, Walter Shirlaw, and Seldon Woodman, the founders hold a festival on behalf of the new Academy at Crosby’s Opera House and their first exhibition at a gallery at 152 South Clark Street; sculptor Leonard W. Volk is named President of the Academy.


The Academy holds classes every day of the year and charges a tuition fee of $10 per month; the basic curriculum comprises three classes: Outline Drawing and Shading from the Flat (lithograph copies); Drawing from the Antique (busts, architectural ornaments); Drawing and Painting from Life (landscape, figure, and still lifes).


The Chicago Academy of Design is granted a charter from the State of Illinois.


An exhibition is held to mark the opening of a new building for the Academy at 66 West Adams Street.


A teaching collection is established, consisting primarily of plaster casts to instruct students as well as Egyptian and Classical material.


The Academy is reorganized by a group of local business leaders who apply for another charter and incorporate their new art organization as the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts; William M.R. French is named Director of the Academy.


Name is changed to the Art Institute of Chicago to accommodate a distinct museum and school, which is later known as as the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Charles Hutchinson is elected President.


359 students are enrolled at SAIC.


Renowned sculptor Lorado Taft establishes SAIC's Sculpture department.


Children’s programming and the Junior School (Saturday classes) begin.

Children surrounding model drawing at tables


Day and evening classes in architecture are offered.

The Hull House Artist

In 1892 SAIC alum and faculty member Enella Benedict founded the Art School at the Hull House.


The Art Institute of Chicago school and museum move into its iconic building on Michigan Avenue built for the World’s Columbian Exposition; 929 students enrolled at SAIC.

A Family Affair

An influential social reformer starts an SAIC family legacy that spans more than a century.

Nickel Backer

In 1912 SAIC alum James Earle Fraser was commissioned to redesign the nickel.


A course in art history is offered for the first time.


Ox-Bow Summer School of Painting is started in Saugatuck, Michigan.

The Founder of Father’s Day

In 1910 SAIC alum Sonora Smart Dodd proposed a day to celebrate fatherhood and the rest is history.


SAIC students protest the Armory Show, an international exhibition that introduces the European avant-garde to Chicago.


First SAIC alumni exhibition is held in the museum.


SAIC is now the largest art school in the world, with an enrollment of 4,520 students.

Snap! Crackle! and Pop!

SAIC alum Vernon Grant created the iconic characters from Kellogg’s Rice Krispies cereal.

Tarzan Illustrator

Burne Hogarth who is best known for his original work on the Tarzan newspaper comic strip from 1937–50 enrolled at SAIC at the age of 12.


The Goodman Theatre is built on the northeast corner of the museum in memory of an SAIC alum who died in World War I; SAIC's Department of Dramatic Arts is established.


SAIC transitions from a three-year program to a four-year program; tuition is $134 per year.


The School of Industrial Art, headed by Emil Zettler, is founded as a separate branch of SAIC.


Bachelor of Arts in Education is offered.


The first student fashion show is held in the midst of the Great Depression—the show is an annual event that continues to this day.

The Man behind the Monopoly Man

SAIC alum “F.O.” Alexander illustrated the board game and its well-known characters.


SAIC is the first art school to be accredited by a regional accrediting association.


SAIC students hold the show, Exhibition Momentum, in protest of their exclusion from the museum's Chicago and Vicinity Show; the exhibition brings recognition to Monster Roster artists.


SAIC’s interdisciplinary approach to art education is established, allowing students to cross areas of study and determine their own pathways through the curricula with faculty consultation.


Cooperative Education Internship Program (Co-op) is launched, enabling students to gain professional experience while earning course credit.


The Early College Program for high school students is established.


At a student exhibition, David K. Nelson, Jr. (SAIC 1987) displays his painting, Mirth & Girth, which depicts Chicago’s first black mayor, Harold Washington, wearing women’s lingerie while holding a pencil. The work incites a vicious debate between anti-censorship advocates and a group of black aldermen from around the city.


Dread Scott’s (BFA 1989) work, What is the Proper Way to Display the US Flag?, is presented at an SAIC student exhibition. The installation sparks a national controversy that results in federal legislature to “protect the flag”.


First residence hall is constructed to house a growing student population, resulting in a truly urban campus by 2000.


Graduate programs diversified, with the introduction of the MA in Arts Administration; MS in Historic Preservation; and MFA in Writing.


SAIC faculty, students, and alumni develop the technology and production techniques for Millennium Park’s Crown Fountain, which increases SAIC’s focus on external and civic collaborations.


Undergraduate programs diversified, with the introduction of the BFA with an emphasis in Art History, Theory, and Criticism; BFA with an emphasis in Art Education; BFA with an emphasis in Writing; and BA in Visual and Critical Studies.


SAIC initiates a laptop program for all incoming first-year students, the first program of its kind in a major arts school.


Introduction of new graduate degrees in architecture and design, including the Master of Architecture; Master of Design in Designed Objects; and Master of Architecture with an Emphasis in Interior Architecture.

Obama's Brand Designer

Sol Sender (MFA 1999) led the development of the identity for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and designed its iconic logo.


SAIC produces the most Fulbright Scholars among all art and design schools.


SAIC establishes its first Scientist-in-Residence; the school also partners with Northwestern University to offer the art and science course, Data Viz Collaborative.


SAIC introduces a three-year Low-Residency Master of Fine Arts program.


SAIC partners with the Homan Square Foundation in Chicago's North Lawndale neighborhood to offer art and design classes to the West Side community.