EXPANDING ARTS ACCESS + cultivating the creativity of our youth

135 Arts Center Stage Campaign


Spark* SF Public Schools is launching the 135 Arts Center Stage Campaign to create a world-class arts education center in the heart of San Francisco’s performing arts district at 135 Van Ness Avenue. Years in the making, this will be one of San Francisco’s key arts projects of this century. The realization of this bold vision will put San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) on the cultural map in the United States.

NEED AND CURRENT REALITY:  SFUSD owns an entire city block of historic landmarks including the gorgeous Spanish Colonial Revival building at 135 Van Ness and the classic Beaux Arts building at 170 Fell. In November 2016, San Francisco voters passed a school facilities bond with $100 million to renovate and retrofit these architectural treasures.  

At the same time, anchored in SFUSD’s Arts Education Master Plan and with the support of an anonymous donor, SFUSD developed the Mosaic program in collaboration with global design company, IDEO. The Mosaic program is designed to bridge the equity gap in arts education at SFUSD by providing opportunities for all of its students to develop their creative potential.

The cornerstone of the new arts education center will be the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, finally at its rightful home at 135 Van Ness Avenue. Intended as the hub for arts education at SFUSD, it is currently one of the top public arts high schools in the country, but has never had a space built to fully serve the artistic needs of its rigorous programs and world-class performances.

The total cost to renovate, retrofit, and rehabilitate these 2.5 acres of historic landmarks with major seismic upgrades, is estimated to be $296 million.  It would be cheaper to knock it all down and build anew—but it would be a great loss. A new state school bond could provide $50–60 million. The district has $15 million from previous bonds and $9 million in reserve. 


VISION:  Renowned local architect, Mark Cavagnero, whose work includes the San Francisco JAZZ Center, the Oakland Museum of California and the California Legion of Honor Museum, has  been retained by SFUSD for this sophisticated project. Mr. Cavagnero has masterfully developed the plans to combine the architecturally distinct buildings at the site into a cohesive breath-taking arts education center with facilities for all of San Francisco to enjoy.

The Spanish Revival building at 135 Van Ness where the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts will be housed, will be restored in spectacular detail to take center stage, displaying our city’s pride in the arts and in public education. The ornate towers at each end of the building will stand out anew. A new adjoining building, set slightly back, will feature a glass-walled contemporary design that will provide additional space for the school and fill it with light. 

The Mosaic program will bring renewed life to 170 Fell, in the first-ever plan to save this Beaux Arts landmark.   Here, students can sign up for free violin or piano lessons. Here, they can get all the benefits of rigorous art training—which go far beyond the art itself and what any one school can provide: tools, instruments, instructors, and space for free lessons; studios, rehearsal rooms, and performance halls; “maker spaces” and design labs; and exhibition opportunities.

Offerings will range from ballet to hip-hop, mariachi to musical theater—and beyond—based on demand and the availability of professional teaching artists. Students will come from all over the city to hear talks from directors and choreographers, to take master classes from painters and virtuosos, and to practice and perform. 

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As the new home to SFUSD’s world-class Visual and Performing Arts Department, the Mosaic program will also offer training opportunities for our teachers, and provide space for collaboration to enable teachers, artists and community-based arts organizations to work together. It will become a wide-open “front door” to greet and connect more of our city’s great artists and organizations with our schools citywide.

The new arts center will also feature a new 600-seat theater: a performance venue for the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts and for students across the city. This new space will be state-of-the-art, ready to support diverse performances. Students in San Francisco public schools deserve their own stage—right up there with the Symphony Hall, Herbst Theatre, and Opera House. Imagine the pride of our families as our students take this stage among our city’s most venerable institutions, sharing their talents, their cultures, and themselves.

These structures will surround a small courtyard. This can host performances and exhibitions on occasion, and will make a welcoming gathering space for students, teachers, parents, and community audiences.  At ground level, performance and practice rooms will be visible from the sidewalk and the street, letting the surrounding community share and enjoy the magic being created within. 

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INVESTMENT: We are rebuilding an entire city block, filling century-old architecture with 21st-century arts facilities, while following historical preservation guidelines and meeting strict school seismic requirements. Now is the time to bring this grand vision to life by supporting the 135 Arts Center Stage Campaign. The remaining investment to complete the project is $120 million. Spark* SF Public Schools is inviting San Francisco’s visionaries in the philanthropic community—those who can see the potential of the new arts center, to shape it, to bring it to life. 

Now is the time to leverage this prime real estate, the neighborhood and the arts to serve not just one school, but all schools and students to create a thriving campus for public arts education among San Francisco’s world-famous arts institutions and to foster the creativity of all our students. Join us, and let’s show the world what San Francisco believes in, and what we can do.

IMPACT: When complete, the new arts education center will:

  • Serve over 56,000 students and a teaching force of 4,000 in collaboration with hundreds of master artists and community-based organizations with a new vision for education.

  • Expand enrollment at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts at SFUSD by 200 students.

  • Secure the future of the arts in our city because today’s children are tomorrow’s audiences and hundreds of arts organizations in San Francisco, small and large, depend on informed supporters.

  • Lead a civic transformation, activating both Hayes and Fell Streets. It will complement—and benefit from—the ongoing restoration of the city’s civic center, the improvements along Van Ness Avenue, and the new buildings, walkways, and landscaping planned for the neighborhood.