We Make History
SAIC has been at the forefront of art education for more than a century and a half, fostering critical thinking, rigorous investigation, and playful creativity. The School was among the first to embrace self-directed study across disciplines. Our alumni have gone on to shape the world as artists, designers, and scholars. And our encyclopedic art museum and civic partnerships inspire millions both at home in Chicago and around the globe.
We See the World Differently
150 Years of SAIC
Influencing Art and Design for 150 Years
Founded by artists for artists, SAIC has a rich history of innovation in art and design education. Today, it's a unique environment where students are redefining creative making and civic engagement. Explore our timeline to learn how we got here.
1866: Made By Artists
A group of Chicago artists decided to form a school of art in the city with its own gallery for the education of its students.
1882: The Art Institute of Chicago Museum is Born
Less than 15 years after its founding, the growing school, with its museum, was renamed the Art Institute of Chicago.
1922: The World's Largest Art School
SAIC moved into its iconic Michigan Avenue building and was now the largest art school in the world.
1969: Disrupting Art Education
At the end of the '60s, SAIC dropped majors and adopted a system of self-directed study. Students were to define their own curricular paths with faculty guidance.
1977: A Glimpse of the Future
A graduate student created an algorithmic software for an image-making computer he assembled—SAIC's first foray into tech.
1982: Art & Technology
Two SAIC programs, Generative Systems and Kinetics, merged to become the country's first department of art and technology studies.
1998: A School of Art and Design
SAIC launched the "Design Initiative," marking its transition to a full-fledged school of art and design.
2000: Bio Art Is Born
Professor Edward Kac took over a small room on the fourth floor of the MacClean Center to create a bio lab, creating the groundwork for a bio art program at SAIC.
2013: Breaking Boundaries
The School added "Design Nexus" courses, uniting art and design students to challenge boundaries at the intersection of their fields.
2016: SAIC at Homan Square
SAIC and the Homan Square Foundation launched joint art and design classes in Chicago's underserved North Lawndale community.
2016: SAIC’s First Woman President
As the first woman to lead SAIC, Elissa Tenny advanced diversity and anti-racist initiatives. A first-generation college student herself, she also fostered support programs for SAIC’s first-gen population.
2016: SAIC Turns 150
SAIC commemorated its 150th anniversary with a yearlong celebration. Among the events and exhibitions, “Homegrown” at the Art Institute museum showed work by the School’s alumni.
2018: SAIC at the Venice Architecture Biennale
SAIC was selected to commission and present Dimensions of Citizenship at the Biennale’s US Pavilion. The project challenged architects and designers to envision what it means to be a citizen today.
History and the Future
What started as a small study collection for a fledgling art school grew into one of the world's greatest collections. Today, SAIC students use the Art Institute museum as a resource for exploration and experimentation.
Most Influential Art School
A survey conducted by the National Arts Journalism program at Columbia University ranked SAIC “the most influential art school in the United States.”
#1 Most Influential Art School
Ranked by Columbia University
A Constellation of Influence
This has always been a school that combines rigor with risk-taking, serious critique with play, and a commitment to personal creative vision with a belief that artists and designers can and should see their work as part of the broader effort to make change in society. Our alums reflect these priorities.
"Sky Above Clouds IV" by Georgia O'Keeffe
Georgia O’Keeffe (SAIC 1905–06, HON 1967) was at the forefront of American Modernism. She pioneered a new approach to painting that focused on the essential and the abstract in nature.
"American Gothic" by Grant Wood
Grant Wood (SAIC 1913-16) was a leading figure of the Regionalist movement. Wood’s work emerged from a deep connection to the Midwest, and his figurative paintings, such as the iconic American Gothic, were influential in their portrayal of American rural themes.
Sonya Clark, Unraveling, 2015–present, performance with Confederate Battle Flag
In her work, fiber artist Sonya Clark (BFA 1993, HON 2023) traces connections between hair and textiles, communities and commodities, and radicalized identities.
"Christ and the Lamb" by Jeff Koons
Jeff Koons (SAIC 1975–76, HON 2008) is renowned for challenging the boundaries of art and popular culture in his provocative sculptures.
"Museum without Ceiling" by Roger Brown
Roger Brown (SAIC BFA 1968, MFA 1970) was a leading figure of the Chicago Imagist school. His bold, personal paintings and sculptures center political subject matter; in the ‘80s, Brown’s most influential work addressed the AIDS crisis.
"Untitled (Havana 2000) by Tania Bruguera
Tania Bruguera (MFA 2001, HON 2016) is an influential Cuban artist-activist whose performance and installation work explores the intersections of art and political life. Her courageous work openly challenges authoritarian regimes and champions human rights.
Rocket Sam in "Tis the Season of Giving on Planet X-38" by Chris Ware
Chris Ware (SAIC 1991–93) is a cartoonist known for his groundbreaking comics and graphic novels, which are marked by formal innovation and powerful themes.
"Afropick" by Sanford Biggers
Sanford Biggers (SAIC MFA 1999) has received critical attention for his innovative, interdisciplinary approach, which crosses performance, sculpture, and installation. He mines African American histories and traditions to create powerful new bodies of work.
"Hero Construction" by Richard Hunt
Richard Hunt (BA 1957, HON 1979) is one of America’s most prolific public sculptors. His installations, which include monuments to African American heroes, are an integral part of the Chicago landscape and can be seen around the world. In 2022, Hunt received the first commission from the Obama Presidential Center.
Sarah Vowell, "Lafayette in the Somewhat United States," 2015
Sarah Vowell (MA 1999) is a New York Times–bestselling author of several nonfiction books on American history and culture. She offers personal, often humorous accounts of everything from presidents and their assassins to colonial religious fanatics, as well as thoughts on Native Americans, utopian dreamers, pop music, and the odd cranky cartographer.