University of Texas at San Antonio to acquire art school

by Joseph K. Clark

Dive Brief:

  • The University of Texas at San Antonio plans to acquire the nearby Southwest School of Art in a deal the two institutions hope will close before next fall’s term begins, they announced Monday.
  • Under the transaction, the art school — a small private institution that is not regionally accredited — would become part of a new school under the UT San Antonio umbrella, housed within the university’s liberal and fine arts college. The two sides would combine their individual bachelor of fine arts programs, based at the art school’s downtown San Antonio campus.
  • The two institutions’ governing boards expect to consider the deal in November. Should it advance, UT San Antonio pledged to preserve the art school’s buildings and grounds, maintain named endowments, and preserve designated spaces like galleries and studios. The university also said it hopes to make use of the art school’s name and brand.

Dive Insight:

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The acquisition would be the latest in a multi-year string of consolidation hitting independent art schools. These institutions face pressures on multiple fronts: changes in high school curricula that have made it harder for students to take art classes, small-scale art schools, and increased costs.

Recent deals in the space include an agreement between Willamette University and the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Oregon that closed this summer and Belmont University acquiring the Watkins College of Art in Nashville, Tenn., and then selling the art school’s campus this spring. They also include New England College taking over the New Hampshire Institute of Art in 2019 and Boston’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts becoming part of Tufts University in 2016.

Some art schools have closed without finding larger institutions to acquire them. The Oregon College of Art and Craft closed in 2019 amid long-running financial challenges. The Memphis College of Art closed in 2020.

Leaders involved in UT San Antonio and the Southwest School of Art cast it as an opportunity for both sides. They expect it to strengthen degree programs, bring UT San Antonio’s art programs downtown, strengthen its mission, and add to its financial sustainability.

The two institutions each have footprints in downtown San Antonio. The art school’s president, Paula Owen, said in a statement that they have a strong history of connections. Many of the art school’s faculty received degrees from the university. The school’s graduates often pursue master’s degrees at the university, and the school’s art galleries feature UT San Antonio faculty members’ work.

In another statement, UT San Antonio President Taylor Eighmy called San Antonio “the cultural heart of Texas” and said the school created in the merger would be “a catalyst, a protector and a voice for creative ideas, collaborations, and energy.”

UT San Antonio dwarfs the art school in size. According to federal data, the university enrolled more than 32,000 undergraduate and graduate students in the fall of 2019. Its art and art history department has 419 students and 17 faculty members.

The Southwest School of Art has 42 students, 38 full-time employees, and 75 part-time employees. It has 31 degree-seeking students and eight arts faculty.

According to tax documents, the art school reported a $470,000 surplus on $5.5 million in revenue in the 2020 fiscal year. It reported assets of $29.1 million versus liabilities of $2.9 million.

Under the deal, UT San Antonio would substantially acquire all of the art school’s assets and real estate. The art school does not participate in federal financial aid programs. Starting in 1965, the art school operated programs for adults, children, and teenagers. It didn’t establish its bachelor of fine arts program until 2014, a spokesperson said in an email.

According to the spokesperson, the school has not yet received the regional accreditation necessary for its students to receive federal grants and loans. It had been pursuing accreditation and federal financial aid eligibility.

UT San Antonio and the art school didn’t share the financial terms of their agreement. The art school’s governing board will be invited to serve on an advisory council for the new art school. Its employees will be able to transfer to UT San Antonio “after an employment process that follows policy,” the school’s spokesperson said. Owen, the art school’s president, will serve in that role through the transition and then plans to retire in 2022.

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