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Interview: CCAD’s Melanie Corn on the Future of the School

Brent Warren Brent Warren Interview: CCAD’s Melanie Corn on the Future of the SchoolCORN
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Melanie Corn began her tenure as President of the Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD) in March of 2016. The school, with its campus centered around the intersection of East Gay Street and Cleveland Avenue, has long played an important role in the life of Downtown Columbus.

With so many changes on the horizon for that part of Downtown — from new apartments on Long Street and other surrounding streets, to new educational buildings planned for the Columbus State campus — we thought the time was right to sit down with Dr. Corn.

Read on for an edited transcript of that conversation, which covered everything from Dr. Corn’s background, to her initial thoughts on Columbus, to CCAD’s plans for future campus development, including a new animation center that could be open as soon as next fall.

CU: You’ve been at CCAD for about 18 months, and you came here from San Francisco. Are you from there originally?

Melanie Corn: No, I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, but then I moved out to California for college and ended up staying, so I was out there in a few different areas for about 22 years or so, the last 13 of which I was in the Bay Area — I lived in Oakland and worked at a peer institution, California College of the Arts, in San Francisco.

CU: When you took the job and moved here did you have any connection to Columbus, had you been here before?

MC: I had been here before, a few times, mostly just for conferences and other things, and I had been to and knew of CCAD. I was really impressed with the school and the city. It’s definitely a change from the Bay Area, but a welcome one. The Bay Area is a great place, but I was kind of tired of the traffic, the cost of living, and, more importantly for my job, it’s also a challenging place to enter into the creative world as a young college grad, because costs are so high, and because real estate is so tight.

I was really impressed with Columbus because not only do you have a great corporate culture for the creative economy, with a strength in retail, and in other sectors like insurance or banking, who all have amazing creative teams on hand, but it’s also a community where you can foster a place like Franklinton, where for not that much money, you can go in with some friends and start an artist collective.

And that’s the kind of thing that’s missing right now from some of the other more expensive markets, so I saw it as a great opportunity to be at a place like CCAD…to help our students and alumni find really great opportunities.

CU: Was there anything that surprised you about Columbus?

MC: This almost sounds cliché at this point, but when I was looking at Columbus, I heard from board members and others about the “Columbus Way,” and I sort of thought, ok, everybody wants to say they’re collaborative and work together. But I’ve been blown away, I have to say, by the depth of that meaningful collaboration, across multiple sectors.

I’ve said before that I think CCAD kind of punches above its weight here in the city, because we get a lot of respect. Even though we’re a small school of 1,100 students in a city with a lot of larger schools, we are given a seat at the table.

There’s an opportunity for collaboration amongst cultural organizations, with other higher ed leaders, with corporate leaders, with the Columbus Partnership. It’s been really great, and it benefits our students tremendously. They get more opportunities for that kind of real world learning through projects and classes that are partnered with corporate and community organizations, but also in terms of creating a good environment for them to graduate into if they do want to stay in Columbus. You can shoot an email to almost any CEO in the city and they’ll get back to you, and that doesn’t happen in every city.

CU: How many students stay in Columbus after they graduate?

MC: We have about 12,000 living alumni right now, and I’d say about a quarter to a third of them — three to four thousand — are here in the Columbus region. And the percentage of new graduates who stay has been increasing in the last 10 years, just because there is more opportunity here, to do a wide variety of creative jobs.

CU: I was looking back at CCAD’s 2012 Framework Plan, which actually calls for a number of new buildings that haven’t really materialized, and I know that a comprehensive plan was completed more recently. Given all the development activity now on Long Street from the private sector, I thought it might be a good time to check in on the two plans.

MC: In 2012 CCAD put together a master framework plan which was not a strategic plan — it wasn’t looking at all aspects of the college, it was really looking at campus planning — and that plan was very much a long-range plan. In reading about how Denny Griffith was articulating it at the time, it was really a 10, 20, 25 year plan. So within our current strategic plan, we do call for a reassessment and reaffirmation of the 2012 framework plan, recognizing the changes in leadership and everything else over the last few years. It hasn’t gone away but has kind of sat in waiting for a couple years.

We have a lot of new leadership — not just me — and we’ll be meeting with the senior leadership team devoted to that plan with the goal of bringing our thoughts back to the board by the end of this calendar year. I don’t imagine there will be significant changes. It’s really a chance to sit down, look at it again, reaffirm this is the direction we want to go in.

So, while we haven’t made many of the dramatic moves that are called for in that plan in terms of new buildings, we’ve been doing a lot of smaller things, getting us moving in that direction. Just in the past two years, we have built out a new screening room, a top-quality, 4k projection, surround sound — it’s pretty amazing — and that is part of that effort, as Denny had described it, of strengthening a digital campus.

We also completely renovated our main gallery, which is now called the Beeler Gallery, and it’s an incredible space. And, we’ve opened a small campus store, Ampersand Emporium, that is allowing us to not only have sort of a small convenience store setup, but also is a chance for us to sell CCAD merchandise as well as alumni work, which is one of the things that was called for.

And then, the last thing is that we are beginning work on a new animation center. The building on the corner of Broad and Cleveland — DSB, Design Studios on Broad, the old Beyers building — went through a major renovation about 10 years ago. There’s a large section of the first floor that’s kind of a garage space, and that is being transformed into a new animation center. That’ll be open by August. It’s being built out of a public private partnership. We got $750,000 in the 2016 state capital biennial budget, and then we’re raising the rest of it, probably another $600,000 or so, from private funds.

We’ve got a naming gift; it’ll be the Cloyd Family Animation Center after Gil Cloyd, a board member and the former chief technology officer at Proctor and Gamble. So, we’re finishing out that fundraising, construction will begin in early spring, and that’ll provide about four new classrooms, everything from a high-tech lab to a drawing studio to a really exciting experimental animation space that’s focused on stop motion animation, as well as a gallery and some offices.

Animation is a strength of CCAD’s for sure, and this will allow us to continue to grow the program and provide some really new top-notch facilities.

So these are all things that I think, while not explicitly spelled out in the 2012 plan, are moving us in the right direction in terms of our goals of really solidifying the center of campus and strengthening our digital capabilities as well as our external-facing side.

CU: What about all those new buildings that were called for — are those still planned?

MC: We have two residence halls right now: Schottenstein, our freshman residence hall, and then the newer one, Design Square Apartments. So, adjacent to the Design Square Apartments, at Cleveland and Long, the 2012 framework plan called for another residence hall there, and that’s still our thinking, but again, we’ll be looking at it — do we need additional dorm space, or is it about replacing an older dorm? Also, most importantly, that new residence hall could provide some much-needed additional student life space, for all students, whether they are commuter students or live in the dorms.

So that building is still on our horizon. We need to look at the timing in terms of our capacity to fill that residence hall and then funding, of course. Part of our current strategic plan is also looking at launching a new capital campaign.

As for the other buildings that the 2012 plan calls for, I think they are still possible, but again, this is the kind of 20-25 year part of that plan. Another smaller, but potentially new building project that may come along is what some schools are calling a Welcome Center, a place that’s more of a hub for prospective students, for admissions, for enrollment. So I think in the 2012 plan, there was something like that proposed for the parking lot of DSB.

CU: The recent plan, does that call for growing the enrollment?

MC: Yes it does. We’re now just shy of 1,100 students, and the current plan goes from January of 2017 through June of 2020, calls for growth to 1,250. The goals around that growth are just creating a more robust campus community and gaining some efficiencies of scale.

CCAD at its height was just shy of 1,400, and that was right around the financial crisis of 2008-2009. And then CCAD, like most other independent colleges — especially art and design colleges — saw some drops in enrollment.

The goal is to grow that back. Ultimately it’d be great to be closer to that 14-1,500, but that’s sort of slow and steady work. It’ll take more than three years to get there. This fall we have more students overall, and a larger incoming class than last year, and that’s been the first year in seven years that we’ve had a larger incoming class than the prior year, so we’re moving back in the right direction.

Our overall goals for the current strategic plan are really about growing the enrollment, strengthening our role as a cultural leader in Columbus, and growing our reputation nationally and internationally.

CU: How many students live on campus, and where do students live? Are a lot them Downtown?

MC: We require all of our incoming first year students to live on campus, with a few exceptions, so that’s around 300 or so. The remaining students live in a variety of places. We have a number of students who live in some of the apartment buildings Downtown, like Grant Oaks by the library, the Abigail right next door. There are a lot of students living in apartment buildings and shared houses in Olde Towne East; we have some students who live closer to the OSU campus; but, I’d say the majority of our students who don’t live on campus live relatively close to campus.

CU: With all the new apartments coming in, and eventually, when Long Street fills in, that’s not going to be affordable housing — are you concerned about places for your students to live?

MC: Yeah, absolutely. I know that there’s been talk of Grant Oak apartments going away, and of course as places like Olde Towne East and Franklinton continue to grow, students and artists and other low-income residents tend to get squeezed out, so that’s definitely a concern.

I mean, I’m not alone. I think many in the city feel this pull of, on the one hand, there’s so much to be excited for and to celebrate in the growth and development of the city, but also, we are worried about how that growth impacts all of our low-income residents, and students are often low-income residents. That’s definitely one of the things that we are paying attention to when we think about building more housing: How do we time that to support students with quality, but also affordable, on-campus housing, as it gets harder to find cheaper housing off campus?

For more information,visit ccad.edu.

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