April 2015: Studio Art Centers International (SACI) Celebrates 40th Anniversary and first MFA Commencement
More than 10,000 students have traveled to Florence, Italy, since 1975 to immerse themselves in art and culture at Studio Art Centers International, where two Renaissance palaces near the Duomo serve as classrooms, studios and galleries Florence, Italy – “In a place where the past comes alive,” Studio Art Centers International (SACI) is celebrating its 40th anniversary in April, 2015, as well as the commencement of its first Master of Fine Arts graduates.
The events, which begin on April 24 with the commencement ceremony and an exhibition of the graduating students’ artworks, extend through April 27 with gatherings for alumni, including a concert at the Conservatorio di Santa Maria degli Angiolini, which was restored by SACI Conservation students and faculty between 1996 and 2006.
“The upcoming commencement represents a celebration of an utterly unique school and of the pioneering students who made it possible to turn the dream of creating an outstanding MFA program in Florence into a reality,” said Dean David Davidson. “For many contemporary artists, questions of modernity in both outlook and approach can only be addressed fully through direct experience of Florentine art and culture. No school is more committed—or able—to offer this than SACI. Students in SACI’s MFA programs—like those in our Post-Bac and undergraduate programs—are surrounded by artworks that, during the Renaissance, revolutionized art and have since served as an inspiration and catalyst for generations of artists.”
SACI (www.saci-florence.edu) is the oldest and most prestigious American art school in Florence. It was founded in 1975 by painter Jules Maidoff who worked with the first group of 14 students in a barn in the hills above Florence for a short summer session that year. “I was and am still convinced that art is an intellectual activity, which implies that art education is much more than the imparting of technical expertise,” Maidoff said recently. “Therefore, SACI has always been a place where artist/intellectuals, teachers and students gravitate and are welcomed.”
Maidoff, 82, grew up in New York City, grandson of Eastern European immigrants, and earned degrees from City College of New York. Awarded a Fulbright Grant in painting to Florence in 1956, Maidoff later worked in graphic design and advertising in the U.S. before returning to Italy in the 1970s to paint full-time. His paintings are in numerous private collections around the world and in museums including the Riverside Museum in New York and the Brussels Royal Museum.
Since that first summer session, SACI has evolved to offering fall, spring and summer terms for study abroad students, and graduate studies: a 1-year Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program, a 1-year MA in Art History and 2-year MFAs in Photography and Studio Art.
As course offerings have changed and expanded, so, too, have the facilities. Classes are no longer held in a barn in the Tuscan hills, but in two fully renovated Renaissance palaces near the Duomo in Florence’s historic center.
SACI facilities include the Palazzo dei Cartelloni and the Jules Maidoff Palazzo for the Visual Arts. Palazzo dei Cartelloni was remodeled in the 17th Century for the mathematician Vincenzo Viviani, who was a student of Galileo and erected a bust of Galileo over the entrance way. The palazzo was built on the foundations of homes belonging to wealthy Florentine silk merchant Francesco Del Giocondo, and many scholars believe the Mona Lisa is a portrait of his wife. Currently the palazzo includes classrooms, a lecture hall, a library, a gallery, administrative offices, an art conservation laboratory and a traditional Italian garden.
The Jules Maidoff Palazzo for the Visual Arts includes graduate studios, a design library; fully equipped classrooms for digitally based courses, photography studios, a fresco studio, a language classroom, a gallery, a garden and a Renaissance courtyard.
SACI is a non-profit school accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) that offers a wide variety of courses at all levels in studio art and design, conservation, art history and Italian language and culture.
“I didn’t have a master plan when I came here,” said Maidoff. “I just knew there was a need for this type of education—a challenging program in studio art offered in a place where the past comes alive.