Elissa Tenny

President, School of the Art Institute of Chicago

“The School of the Art Institute of Chicago is a gem and a resource—a distinguished institution both in the city of Chicago and in the global world of art and design,” says President Elissa Tenny. “After more than 150 years, our community of artists, designers, and scholars remains a dynamic and diverse collection of artists, designers, and scholars, whose creations enrich our understanding of humanity and shape our shared society.”

An image of the current President of the School of the  Art Institute of Chicago, Elissa Tenny.

Elissa Tenny was named president in July 2016, becoming the 15th executive and first woman to lead the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) in its more than 150-year history. A career-long proponent of art and design education and the liberal arts, Tenny is an advocate of interdisciplinary practice; diversity, equity, and inclusion in college and throughout society; and the global citizenship role artists, designers, and scholars fulfill, influencing the world at large.

While at SAIC, Tenny has had broad responsibility for overseeing the School’s world-renowned academic programs, strategic direction, and operations across all facets of the institution. During her tenure, the School completed its first-ever major fundraising campaign at 110 percent of goal. She has centered the student experience through further fundraising and planning efforts—which have increased student scholarships, promoted wellness, and expanded career-building experiences for students. Additionally, opportunities for research have increased under Tenny’s leadership, and she personally served as principal investigator for Spencer Foundation-funded research projects involving six Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD) schools. Throughout, she has remained a leader in the field, having contributed to AICAD and National Association of Schools of Art and Design conferences, delivered the keynote address at the 40th anniversary celebration for The New School’s School of Media Studies, been named a notable woman in both education and as an executive by Crain’s Chicago Business, and ranked sixth on Newcity’s list of Chicago notables, “Art 50 2017: Who Makes Art Work.”

Tenny came to SAIC in 2010 to serve as provost and senior vice president of academic affairs. Prior to that, she served as provost and dean at Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont, from 2002–10. Tenny also served in a variety of roles at The New School in New York City from 1975 to 2002, eventually holding the positions of acting dean (1998–2001) and vice dean (2001–02). Tenny holds a Doctor of Education from the University of Pennsylvania, a Master of Arts in Media Studies from The New School, and a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration from Stockton University.

In March 2023, President Tenny announced she will retire in summer 2024; a search is underway to identify her successor.

If you would like President Tenny to speak at an upcoming event, contact her office at president@saic.edu. Please share the event’s date, time, and location, as well as the type of speaking engagement (welcome remarks, keynote address, Q&A, roundtable discussion, etc.).

President Elissa Tenny Profile
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