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Elisa Stevens - President of the Academy of Art in San Francisco - Melrose Heights MagazineElisa Stephens, President of the ACADEMY of ART UNIVERSITY in San Francisco since 1992, does not worry about physical competition. She worries about another type of adversity. “We are competing against ignorance,” she states boldly.

The ACADEMY of ART UNIVERSITY in San Francisco is a key player in the Bay Area. With over 18,000 students, the school offers undergraduate, graduate and certificate degrees in 23 schools that consist of a wide-ranging curriculum with real-world learning models.

This dynamic art school hails from Richard S. Stephens, Elisa’s grandfather who graduated from California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, California.  Mr. Stephens then served in the Navy where he met Clara Stephens, Elisa’s grandmother, who served as a surgical nurse for Red Cross during WWI.  The meeting led to marriage.  After serving duties were over, Richard and Clara moved back to the United States.  “As I recall, my grandfather was challenged to draw an ellipse and did not feel that he could draw it to perfection. That incident sent him to Paris with my grandmother,” says Elisa.   

The Stephens were official residents of Paris and studied with fellow artists to perfect their drawings.  But after losing their $50,000 inheritance, which was invested in US Treasury Bonds, in 1929, the couple was forced to retreat to the United States. They arrived back in San Francisco and founded what was called the Academy of Advertising Art, in 1929, in a loft on Kearny Street.  Today the school is the most sought after institution by individuals who want to take their lives to the next level.  Computers are a big staple in this school as it is a visual tool for the students. Artists need the computer to step up their game.

The Academy offers online programs as it allows easier access through computers and saves any promising alumnus a trip to San Francisco. “There is no need to worry about language barriers as there will be translation software.”  Elisa guarantees if the students show up prepared, ready to listen and work hard, they will walk away with knowledge in fifteen weeks.


Recently, the Academy of Art University added another set of courses to its curriculum.  Students can now step up their game with the approval of the new one-year Art Teaching Credential Program to take art degrees and become professional teachers.  The Credential Program is accredited by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) and is set to take action on the San Francisco campus (and online) in the summer of 2014.  In regards to the new program, Dr. Elisa Stephens says, “Offering this accredited teaching degree supports our overall mission to provide quality art and design education to aspiring art students and increasing the opportunities and access for arts education.”

Now the Academy of Art University has set the wheels in motion to become a premium school for guiding the future of art teachers in America.  As the need is so great for an education in the dynamic and creative process of creating art and creative problem solving, now one of the most sought after art schools in the country can pave the way for an entire generation of credentialed art teachers.

Also going on in San Francisco, The Academy of Art University has recently completed a mural in dedication to Andrew “Bart” Simpson, the sailor who was tragically killed on May 9, 2013 while training for  America’s Cup in Artemis Racing.  The mural was inspired by Mr. Simpson’s life and dedicated in his memory.  “San Francisco will never forget the tragic loss of Mr. Simpson,” said Mayor Ed Lee.

“We are all saddened by his passing, and hope that this mural dedicated in his honor will provide visitors and residents with a place they can come to celebrate his life.”  It measures 116 feet wide and 50 feet high, located at 150 Hayes Street, reading “In Memory of America’s Cup Sailor, Andrew “Bart” Simpson, Double Olympic Medalist, Artemis Racing.”  Mr. Simpson was loved by all and now thanks to the students of The Academy of Art University and under the guidance of Dr. Elisa Stephens his life towers tall on Hayes Street to remind the public of his enthusiasm for life and to serve as in inspiration to future generations.

As another tribute to the many successes of the Academy of Art University, two students, Jack Liu of Antelope, CA and Omead Dorandish of Concord, CA have both received the prestigious Pebble Beach Phil Hill Scholarships dedicated in honor of Phil Hill, the Formula 1 World Drivers Champion.  The Pebble Beach Company Foundation Phil Hill Scholarship program presents scholarships to promising students seeking degrees in the many fields related to Hill’s passions, including automobiles.

Dr. Elisa Stephens commented, “It is a great honor and testament to the hard work of our students, and the strength of our academic programs, that two Phil Hill Scholarships have been awarded.”

Amongst the Stephens family collection of classic cars on display at the Academy of Art University Auto Museum on Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco, two automobiles were recently displayed at this year’s Concours D”Elegance.  The 1935 Mercedes-Benz 500 K Cabriolet A won the prestigious Mercedes-Benz Star of Excellence award, and placed 2nd in its class, while the 1938 Lincoln-Zephyr Coupe placed 3rd in its class.  As a part of the Academy of Art University’s integral resources, the Auto Museum is place to inspire students in the field of auto design and pay tribute to the history of classic automobiles.

Also, as a testament to the Art Institute’s excellence, students from the Academy’s Schools of Landscape Architecture and Interior Architecture & Design have recently submitted designs for a new “parklet” to be located in front of the university’s building at 601 Brannan Street in San Francisco.  These “parklets” are meant to serve the city as a new type of public open space for socializing outside retail centers, extending from curbsides over existing street parking.  An Academy of Art University MFA Student Youngwook Jeon was awarded first place for his submission Sound & Beat.  Using forms derived from digital sound waves his design proposes to extend the lively pulse from within the Academy’s walls out into the city, helping mitigate homeless occupation through variable seat heights, lighting and aesthetically pleasing swaths of drought-tolerant planting.

And in the arena of athletics, Vashti Thomas, BFA candidate in the Academy’s School of Illustration, has captured a gold medal in 100-meter hurdles at the 2013 World University Games.   “My mindset was to just stay focused and execute my race, “ said Thomas after her win.  She ran a wind-legal 12.61 in her finals to win a gold for Team USA.  Track and Field Coach Charles Ryan commented, “One of the best things about Vashti is that she is well aware of what her success represents.  When she crossed the line as the WUG champion and new record holder, it was a ‘Circle A’ (hand sign, denoting the Academy’s symbol) that she flashed for the camera.  She continues to represent us all and the work we’re doing here so well.”

written by E.A. Thomas   //   photography by James Wood



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