Students will now have to find another school to finish up their degrees.
650 students will now have to find another school to finish up their degrees, if they can. D3SIGN / GETTY IMAGES

After 73 years in operation, the Art Institute of Seattle will close its doors on Friday, March 8.

“We strongly disagree with the decision to close before this quarter is over,” says Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC) deputy director Don Bennett in a press release. “It’s incredibly frustrating and distressing to students and it completely disrupts their education," he added.

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In late February, the WSAC notified students of the school's imminent closure, saying in an e-mail that AI of Seattle could shutter at the end of the term (March 22)—or sometime before that—if they couldn't find a buyer.

According to a representative from WSAC, the school's receiver, Mark Dottore, who is responsible for AI Seattle’s financial obligations, "actively pursued discussions with nine different purchasers" for the school. Apparently, none of those purchasers followed though.

Without a buyer, the school basically ran out of money. On Feb. 27, the U.S. Department of Education cut off Title IV funding (i.e. student aid funding, including student loans) to Argosy University. AU is owned by the Dream Center Foundation, which is the same company that owns AI of Seattle. Though the agency didn't close off direct funding to the Art Institute, Dottore was still left without the ability to pay expenses for the school, according to the WSAC representative.

However, an e-mail sent out to students and teachers earlier this afternoon suggested that a buyer could still acquire the campus, but it provided no information on whether or not anyone is making bids.

The spokesperson for WSAC says they haven't "received any specific information about prospective buyers," and that there's no chance the school will re-open once it closes.

"When AI Seattle closes, it will lose its authorization to operate in Washington. At this point, there isn’t enough time for another party to acquire the school and demonstrate that they can meet state requirements," the representative said.

The representative for WSAC says students looking for information on next steps can visit the agency's website. Next week they're hosting two information fairs, one on Tuesday, March 12, from 3 to 6 pm, and the other on Wednesday, March 13, from 10 am to 1 pm. The fairs will be held at 2323 Elliott Avenue.

An instructor with the Arts Institute says teachers are "frantically filing" their grades for their students. Two of this person's students are living through their fourth Art Institute closing. Both students attended AI schools in San Francisco, Portland, and Vancouver, all of which folded as they were trying to complete their degrees.

Jackie Buttice, an adjunct professor of digital design at AI of Seattle, said her art class became "a therapy session" for her and her students this quarter. Stress, she said, had sent one of her international students to the emergency room four times since news of the school's closure began to circulate last month.

Art created by Professor Buttices graphic design class.
Art created by Professor Buttice's graphic design class. Jackie Buttice

That student, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, told me over the phone that she transferred to the Seattle campus last February following the Art Institute of Portland's closure in December of 2018.

The Portland campus offered international students a certain amount of money to help with moving expenses if they stayed within the Art Institute system. She was supposed to graduate in September of this year, so she took that offer and moved to Seattle during the fifth week of the winter term.

"I had to deal with the stress of moving, attending school, and trying to keep up," she said.

"It's not exactly the school's fault that I've had to go to the emergency room," she added. "I just experience stress differently than people. I have a history of Bell's Palsy, and that makes stress difficult to me. My face freezes and it's really intense."

In addition to the stress, the student says she's experienced "the worst lack of motivation that I've had in my entire life." If the school's going to close, she reasons, "why bother doing any work?"

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The student studies graphic design. She planned to open up a creative firm with her three sisters when she returns home to Saudi Arabia, but now she's not so sure. "I am going to look for other schools here, but I'm okay with the fact that I might end up going home anyway. This whole thing is so tiring—emotionally and physically—and I'm just in a very whatever mood," she said. "I don't know what else to say other than they're making us suffer."

Professor Buttice said she had "several students make work about depression, pain, and identity" over the course of the term. Some of that art will be on display tomorrow at Shenanigans Art Show in the school's gallery from 4 to 6 pm.

"Tomorrow will be the culmination of all the pain, suffering and now finally act as a release of the past few weeks," Buttice said. "This art show means everything."