• Intro
  • 1929-1950
  • 1951-1970
  • 1971-1991
  • 1992-2010
  • 2010-Now

Our History

Like the city it’s called home since 1929, Academy of Art University has always existed on the vanguard of innovation and creativity. The Academy and San Francisco have grown up together and served as mutual sources of inspiration and talent—take a look back at notable moments in the Academy’s history in San Francisco. Explore the Timeline


Richard S. Stephens, Art Director for Sunset Magazine, founds the Académie of Advertising Art with his wife Clara, in a rented loft at 215 Kearny St. with 45 students.

1946: The Academy moves to 740 Taylor Street with 250 students and new courses in Advertising and Commercial Art, Fashion Illustration, Cartooning, and Lettering & Layout.


1951: Richard A. Stephens, son of founder Richard S. Stephens, assumes leadership of the school. Throughout his tenure he will grow the school from 250 students to over 5,000 students and satisfies his love of cars by adding the transportation design department and the classic car collection–one of the largest in the country.

1966: The Academy acquires its own space at 740 Taylor Street and begins offering a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art.


1977: The school adds its first graduate program and offers a Master of Fine Arts degree for the first time.

1985: The Academy gains accreditation from NASAD (National Association of Schools of Art and Design) and now has over 5,000 students.


Elisa Stephens, granddaughter of founder Richard S. Stephens, is appointed President of the university and ushers in a new digital age. By expanding the curriculum, degree programs, and accreditation, she grows the student population to over 18,000 to date.


The university goes green by converting its entire shuttle fleet to bio-diesel, switching to LED lighting, and implementing campus-wide composting and recycling.

Tomorrow: The spirit of San Francisco informs everything we do. As we look to the future, we always look to keep the same sense of innovation, diversity, and wonder that makes our city one of the greatest in the world.

What We Believe

No-Barrier Admissions

All that's required is a passion for learning and developing your skills as an artist.

A Community of Support

We challenge our students to reach their full creative potential in an atmosphere of support and deep collaboration. 

Ethics in Art

We hold ourselves to—and strive to instill in our students—the highest ethical standards of personal and professional integrity. 

Learn From Professionals

We believe that the best teachers are actual working creatives. Our faculty is comprised of art and design experts who maintain careers on the leading edge of industry trends. 

An Urban Citizen

Informed by our home in San Francisco, we aim to give back to the culture in the spirit of generosity and compassion.

Our Leadership

For three generations, the Stephens family has been devoted to inspiring yours.

Learn More About Leadership

Facts About Us


We've been offering an innovative online arts education since 2002.


We hold over 70 student and alumni art shows and gallery exhibitions in San Francisco each year.


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CIDA Accreditation

Council for Interior Design Accreditation

The Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) is an independent, non-profit accrediting organization for interior design education programs at colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. The BFA Interior Architecture & Design and the MFA Interior Architecture & Design programs are both accredited by the CIDA. CIDA is located at 206 Grandville Ave., Suite 350, Grand Rapids, MI 49503-4014. Tel. 1-616-458-0400

CTC Accreditation

California Commission on Teacher Credentialing Accreditation

The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) is an agency in the Executive Branch of California State Government. The major purpose of the agency is to serve as a state standards board for educator preparation for the public schools of California, the licensing and credentialing of professional educators in the State, the enforcement of professional practices of educators, and the discipline of credential holders in the State of California. CTC accredits the Academy of Art University's Single Subject Art Teaching Credential Program. They are located at 1900 Capitol Avenue, Sacramento, CA 95811. Tel: 916-322-6253.

NOTE: The online Art Teaching Credential and the Masters in Art Teaching requires fieldwork assignments in observing and teaching art to pupils in local Bay Area public schools.

NAAB Accreditation

The National Architectural Accrediting Board [NAAB.org]
In the United States, most state registration boards require a degree from an accredited professional degree program as a prerequisite for licensure. The National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB), which is the sole agency authorized to accredit U.S. professional degree programs in architecture, recognizes three types of degrees: the Bachelor of Architecture, the Master of Architecture, and the Doctor of Architecture. A degree program may be granted a 6–year, 3–year, or 2–year term of accreditation, depending on the extent of its conformance with established educational standards.

Doctor of Architecture and Master of Architecture degree programs may consist of a pre-professional undergraduate degree and a professional graduate degree that, when earned sequentially, constitute an accredited professional education. However, the pre-professional degree is not, by itself, recognized as an accredited degree.

The Academy of Art University, Department of Architecture offers the following NAAB-accredited programs:

  • M.Arch (pre-professional degree + 63 graduate credits)
  • M.Arch (non-pre-professional degree + 87 graduate credits)

Next accreditation visit for all programs: 2021

The NAAB grants candidacy status to new programs that have developed viable plans for achieving initial accreditation. Candidacy status indicates that a program should be accredited within 6 years of achieving candidacy, if its plan is properly implemented. In order to meet the education requirement set forth by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, an applicant for an NCARB Certificate must hold a professional degree in architecture from a program accredited by the NAAB; the degree must have been awarded not more than two years prior to initial accreditation. However, meeting the education requirement for the NCARB Certificate may not be equivalent to meeting the education requirement for registration in a specific jurisdiction. Please contact NCARB for more information.

Academy of Art University, School of Architecture was granted candidacy for the following professional degree program in architecture:

  • B.Arch. (162 undergraduate credits): 2012

Projected year of initial accreditation: 2015

NASAD Accreditation

National Association of Schools of Art and Design

The National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) is the national accrediting agency for art and design and art and design-related disciplines. The Academy of Art University is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) to offer degrees of Associate of Arts, Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Fine Arts, Master of Fine Arts, Master of Arts, and Certificates. All Academy of Art University AA, BA, BFA, MA, MFA and Art Teaching Credential programs are accredited by NASAD except for the programs offered by these schools: School of Acting, School of Architecture, School of Landscape Architecture, School of Multimedia Communications, School of Music Production & Sound Design for Visual Media, School of Writing for Film, Television & Digital Media, and also the AA in Automotive Restoration offered by the School of Industrial Design and the BS in Game Programming offered by the School of Game Development. The National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) is located at 11250 Roger Bacon Drive, Suite 21, Reston, VA, 20190. Tel. 703.437.0700

WSCUC Accreditation

WASC Senior College and University Commission

Academy of Art University is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC), one of the seven regional associations that accredit public and private colleges and schools in the United States. WSCUC is located at 985 Atlantic Avenue #100, Alameda, CA, 94501. Tel. 510.748.9001.

WSCUC Accreditation for Online Programs
Both onsite and online degree programs at Academy of Art University are accredited by WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). The following degree programs are not currently offered online: AA, BFA and MFA in Acting, MA in Advanced Architectural Design, BS in Game Programming, and AA in Automotive Restoration.

The Academy of Art University has received reaffirmation of accreditation for a term of 7 years from the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

Academy of Art University would like to thank the WASC Senior College and University Commission for its commendations of the university in the areas of: Centrality of Mission (widespread and "abiding passion"); Focus on Students and Learning ("profoundly committed to students and their learning aspirations"); Community among Students (engaged "community of learners" onsite and online); and Mature Distance Education Programs (“pioneer in developing unique online learning environments").

Academy of Art University is committed to engaging with the recommendations of the Commission on five “areas for continuing action and development”: Leadership and Organizational Structure and Effectiveness (efficiency of decision-making and planning); The Faculty Role (engaging with the greater life of the institution); Student Success (improving graduation rates); Student Life (integrating the co-curriculum and maturing offerings); and Strategic Planning (centralized plans drawing on multiple perspectives, especially faculty). The WASC Commission has indicated particular concern that these items be addressed and has scheduled a special visit in fall 2016 that will focus on the university’s progress in addressing the Commission recommendations. Academy of Art University is required to demonstrate substantial progress on each of these areas by the time of the special visit, and many faculty and administrators in the Academy of Art University community will be collaborating on the various projects associated with action on these items.

The next WASC visit will be the special visit in 2016, followed by a mid-cycle review in 2018.  The WASC Commission Letter can be found here. The visiting team report, which formed the basis for the Commission Action Letter, can be found here. Academy of Art University’s Institutional Self Study, which addressed the required WASC essays, can be found here. Academy of Art University’s Degree Qualifications Profile exhibit, which features an in-depth look at achievement of learning outcomes in eight departments, can be found here. I am pleased to report that Academy of Art University’s DQP exhibit is featured on the website of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), and that AAU will be continuing its work with the DQP over the coming years: http://illinois.edu/blog/view/1542/113714 .

If you have any questions about WASC, please contact Cathy Corcoran (ALO@academyart.edu), Academy of Art University’s WASC Accreditation Liaison Officer.

Non-Discrimination Statement

Academy of Art University admits students of any race, color, age, religion, and national or ethnic origin to all rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. The Academy does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, age, sex, religion, physical handicap, sexual orientation, or national or ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, scholarship and loan programs, and other school-administered programs.

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