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Kathryn Bigelow and Paul Schimmel to Receive Honorary Degrees from SFAI

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SAN FRANCISCO--(Business Wire)--Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow and world-renowned curator Paul Schimmel will receive Doctor of Fine Arts degrees from the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI). Bigelow—an alumnus of SFAI—and Schimmel are both known for provocative, boundary-pushing work that has revolutionized their respective fields.

“SFAI has long fostered risk-taking and experimentation, and we are thrilled to present honorary degrees to two such accomplished people who embody the principles that define SFAI as an institution”

Bigelow is the director of The Hurt Locker (winner of six 2008 Academy Awards including Best Director and Best Picture), Zero Dark Thirty (nominated for Best Picture at the 2012 Academy Awards), Near Dark, Point Break, Strange Days, and other films. Bigelow has also been awarded the Directors Guild of America Award, the BAFTA Award for Best Direction, and the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Director. A central theme throughout Bigelow's eight feature films is the deconstruction of violence. Her portrayal of enhanced interrogation techniques in Zero Dark Thirty became a cultural touchpoint in a national discussion that reached all the way to the floor of the Senate. Bigelow also deconstructs her protagonists, giving them nuances that do not always represent the conventional Hollywood hero/heroine. Additionally, she has challenged conventional Hollywood stereotypes by specializing in traditionally male-focused genres: war, action, and horror. This genre-pushing, experimental approach to art was refined at SFAI, where she earned her BFA in Painting in 1972, and further as part of the Whitney Museum’s Independent Study program under apprenticeships with Richard Serra, Susan Sontag, Vito Acconci, and Lawrence Weiner. Bigelow is a native of San Carlos, California.

Schimmel, who was the Chief Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) from 1990 until 2012, is known as an intellectual powerhouse and a great storyteller, combining these qualities to curate exhibitions that offer fresh, bold perspectives on contemporary art. He is largely credited for bringing relevance to the L.A. art scene when he presented Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the 1990s more than 20 years ago. Critics at the time pronounced it disturbing, messy, dark, and very un-Los Angeles, but the art community took notice and Schimmel helped usher in a new era of ambitious thematic shows at MOCA and other institutions. Other important, recent exhibitions include Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974-81, a major survey that was central to the Getty initiative Pacific Standard Time. In 2012, Schimmel’s departure from MOCA initiated much public discussion about the governance and leadership of arts institutions. Schimmel currently serves on the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, the La Caixa Contemporary Art Collection Acquisition Committee, and is Chairman of the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts.

“SFAI has long fostered risk-taking and experimentation, and we are thrilled to present honorary degrees to two such accomplished people who embody the principles that define SFAI as an institution,” stated Charles Desmarais, president of SFAI. “Kathryn Bigelow has demonstrated extraordinary artistry, bravery, and tenacity in her films, which continue to defy the expectations of contemporary cinema. Paul Schimmel has been a leading figure in elevating the art of California to national and international stature, and has brought exceptional, challenging art to the public through exhibitions that combine impeccable scholarship with a broad audience appeal. SFAI is committed to educating artists who will shape the future of art, culture, and society, and both Kathryn and Paul are exemplary models for the next generation.”

The honorary degrees will be presented at the San Francisco Art Institute commencement ceremony held at Masonic Auditorium at 10 am on Saturday, May 18, 2013.


Founded in 1871 by artists, writers, and community leaders who possessed a cultural vision for the West, the San Francisco Art Institute has long been a locus for artists and thinkers. SFAI fosters creativity and critical thinking in an open, experimental, and interdisciplinary environment. A small school with global impact, SFAI’s notable faculty and alumni include Richard Diebenkorn, Ansel Adams, Annie Leibovitz, Enrique Chagoya, Kathryn Bigelow, Peter Pau, Paul Kos, George Kuchar, Catherine Opie, Lance Acord, Barry McGee, and Kehinde Wiley.

SFAI’s innovative and interdisciplinary curriculum is informed by a strong tradition of rigorous studio work and research in all the visual arts. Balanced with that tradition is an equally strong emphasis in critical thinking, openness to ideas, support for individual perspective, and the teaching of artistic and cultural traditions beyond the Western model. SFAI offers BFA and BA degrees, MFA and MA degrees, a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate, a dual MA/MFA degree, and a range of continuing education and public programs. SFAI enrolls more than 650 students in the degree program.

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