Our History

Fifty years and counting.

Our roots go back to the early sixties, when the San Francisco Arts Commission created the Neighborhood Arts Program to foster connections between local artists and the wider community.

By 1968 (one year after the summer of love), change was definitely in the air, and two determined women—armed with little more than milk cartons, bits of yarn, and baker’s clay—determined to take that community engagement one step further, by making art an integral part of the city’s public school curriculum.

When sculptor Ruth Asawa and architectural historian Sally Woodbridge kicked off the Alvarado School Art Workshop—the organization that evolved into the San Francisco Arts Education Project—they had a $50 grant and a fierce determination to make an arts education available to all school children in San Francisco, regardless of neighborhood or income level. Pedagogical visionaries, Asawa and Woodbridge recognized the powerful impact that the visual and performing arts can have on a child’s life—clear through to adulthood.

As their program (by then called the School of the Arts Foundation) expanded, it also advocated for the creation of a public high school that would make a hands-on arts education available to the city’s talented young painters, sculptors, singers, musicians, writers, filmmakers and more. This dream became a reality in 1982—and the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts continues to thrive today.

“A child can learn something about color, about design, and about observing objects in nature. If you do that, you grow into a greater awareness of things around you. Art will make people better, more highly skilled in thinking and improving whatever business one goes into, or whatever occupation. It makes a person broader.”

— Ruth Asawa

After that success, Ms. Asawa left the organization to focus on her own work, the nonprofit SCRAP, and her continuing vision of moving the arts high school to the Civic Center. Under the dynamic leadership of Emily Keeler (Artistic Director) and Camille Olivier-Salmon (Program Director), who took the helm in 1985, the Foundation recommitted to its original purpose of placing working artists in lower- and middle schools, attracting such luminaries as dancer Jacques D’amboise; writer, artist, choreographer, and director Remy Charlip; and theater director and dramaturge Danny Duncan, among many, many others.

In 1995, the organization received its final moniker, the San Francisco Arts Education Project, and has continued its dedication to pairing some of the region’s most visionary artists with the wonderful children of San Francisco—in schools, summer camps, weekend workshops, and after-school programs such as the SFArtsED Players, a musical theater troupe.

We are so deeply grateful for the wisdom, passion, and determination that led to the creation of an organization dedicated to the belief that art is not window dressing—but an essential part of a well-rounded life.

“All my life I’ve taught that each person is unique, living their own version of artist-dancer-writer-singer-painter-musician. One way for me to share that special balancing act with others is to take each art separately and present it as simply as possible, without the hocus-pocus and snobbery, so that everyone can see how it’s done.”

— Remy Charlip

“We look up at the stars, we’re filled with wonder, and begin to express our emotions through music, sound, and dance, and then that evolves in paintings, drawings. And how do we learn about dance, about music? We learn by doing. We try to represent what should be in every school, the arts in all their ramifications, taught on the highest level by the best artists, so children grow up not just learning the ABC’s and that one and one is two, they also learn how to sing, paint, write a script.”

— Jacques D’amboise