Quick facts: 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.


A group of Chicago artists meet in a block building on the southwest corner of Dearborn Avenue and Madison Street to discuss the formation of an institute of art; the artists intend to run a school with its own art gallery, laying the foundation for the Chicago Academy of Design.


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.


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.


The Great Chicago Fire destroys the Academy's building.


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.


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


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.


Day and evening classes in architecture are offered.


First diplomas are awarded.


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 course in art history is offered for the first time.


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


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.


The Goodman Theatre is built on the northeast corner of the museum in memory of an Art Institute of Chicago employee 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.


Students begin taking liberal arts courses at University of Chicago, subsequently enabling SAIC to begin awarding Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in 1936.


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.


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


First Master of Fine Arts degrees are awarded.
SAIC offers its first course in abstract painting, initiating a shift toward forward-looking art production and training.


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.


The Generative Systems program is launched, which evolves into the Department of Art and Technology Studies—the first department of its kind in the country.
The Midwest Regional Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago is established—now the Gene Siskel Film Center.


SAIC's first building independent of the museum, the Columbus Building, opens at 280 South Columbus Drive.


SAIC Internships (Previously known as 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 a 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.


U.S. News and World Report ranks SAIC #1 fine arts program in their annual Best Graduate Schools edition. SAIC has been consistently ranked in the top three ever since.


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.


SAIC is named the "most influential art school in the United States" in a survey of art critics conducted by the National Arts Journalism Program at Columbia University.


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.


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


The LeRoy Neiman Center opens, providing SAIC with its first campus center.


SAIC established 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.


Master of Architecture program is granted an eight-year accreditation.
The Department of Fashion Design celebrates its 80th anniversary.


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


SAIC celebrates 150 years as a leader in educating artists, designers, and scholars.


SAIC concludes first-ever significant fundraising campaign with $55.2 million.


Over a Century: A History of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 1866–1981, ed. Roger Gilmore, 1982

George B. Carpenter, The Art Review, Vol. 1, No. 3 (Jan. 1871), The Chicago Academy of Design, pp. 13–15

Chicago History: The Art Institute of Chicago, A Centennial Perspective, ed. Fannia Weingartner, 1979