CCAD’s new “Urban Facelift” is nearly complete

Walker Evans Walker Evans
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The Columbus College of Art & Design has been undergoing a bit of an “urban facelift” for the past several years. The Loann Crane Center for Design and the adjacent “quad” greenspace added a lot of new character to the downtown campus. The construction of the new five-story Design Square Apartments dorm building and the Design Studios on Broad renovation project both aim to continue adding to that vibrancy. We sat down last week with Denny Griffith, President of CCAD, to find out what these developments will mean both for students and non-students alike.

Walker Evans
: Hi Denny! Thanks a lot for sitting down with us to chat a little bit today.

Denny Griffith: Sure!

WE: I’ve noticed that a lot of the CCAD-related buzz on Columbus Underground over the past year or two has been about some of the development projects going on, such as the new dorm building here on Cleveland Ave and the old Byers Building down the street that is under reconstruction. Can you give us quick overview of these projects and where they stand right now?

DG: Sure. We’re happy to tell you that we will open the new upper-classman residence hall on Cleveland and Gay in August this year. Right now it is a 13 million dollar project, it’s five stories, 208 beds, and it’s a dormitory that is set up as an apartment-style residence hall. This means that every resident will have their own private bedroom, and every two residents will share one private bath. Each unit has a loft space that has floor to ceiling windows that looks out either towards the Columbus skyline or campus. That part of the project finishes in August. Additionally, a new food court and convenience store will be opening on the ground floor of that building. If that doesn’t get done by August, it will be done by the first or second week of September. So, it’s all on the fast-track for the start of school which is great.

DG: We’re also well along with the renovation of the old Byers building. We call it The Design Studios on Broad. We bought the building a couple of years ago and we’re towards the very end of a fundraising campaign to raise the money to fund the renovations. The renovations and furnishings and fixtures for that project are around 8.5 million dollars and we’ve raised 8 million of that. So we only have $500,000 left to raise funds for. We’ve got pledges that go out three to five years, and to do the project we’ve had to borrow against the pledge schedule to be able to… I guess the metaphor would be, “to eat an elephant one bite at a time”. That building’s kind of an elephant because it’s 106,000 square feet. It’s actually three separate buildings that are all joined together. So, long answer to your short question, we will have the second floor of that building completely finished by August, for the start of school. The rest of the building will get fitted out probably over the next year to year and a half.

WE: What else is going into that building? Is it class space?

DG: It’s all loft space and we’re moving two divisions of the college in there. Our Fashion Design Program will go in the second floor, and the Industrial Design Program which includes Product Design will go in the first floor. At the rear where the old service bay used to be is going to be our Fabrication Studio. We can consolidate our wood, metals, and plastics fabrication which will be great because we will have big garage doors that you can open up and easily move stuff in with.

On the lower level of the building, we’re going to have individual workspaces for up to 400 students. Individual workspace doesn’t exactly mean studio space, but what is does mean is a great big tilt-top desk, and a work surface that they can draw on or work on with lockable storage underneath. It will give our students a place with 24-hour access where they can go and leave their stuff. If they’re doing a big model, they don’t have to schlep it back to their dorm room or back to their apartment.

The whole goal here with our development is to build an urban learning village. We want to provide the opportunities where everyone – metaphorically speaking – can rub up against each other’s ideas.

WE: I think that’s what a lot of people on Columbus Underground seem to be excited about – that CCAD is a very urban campus and that it promotes the creativity that is birthed out of urban environments. Columbus State does a little bit of the same thing to some extent, but they’ve got such a large commuter population, and they don’t really have any residences. So you get the population coming in, going to school, and then leaving. There’s no after-hours, no people looking to do things, collaborate, that sort of thing.

DG: Yeah, it’s more like tidal flow. They flow in and they flow out, and there’s a ton of them over there. We’re very happy to be neighbors with them because it’s a robust and successful enterprise.

With the Jeff Edwards Neighborhood Launch project, the museum’s renovation project, our stuff, and The Seneca finally coming online, I think the one thing that the neighborhood now lacks is retail. It’d be great if there were some more restaurants or a pub. You know, it’s not really my job as President to advocate for pubs opening in the neighborhood, but the fact is that you need some of that type of development.

We’ve all been to New York or Chicago and you can easily go into one of those great little corner stores too. They’ve got the salad bar inside and the oranges stacked outside… wouldn’t that be splendid to have over here? We’re doing our bit with this new food court in The Design Square Apartments and we are going to have a little convenience store in there too.  We also have an art supply store here on campus that no one would really have any reason of knowing about. It’s currently buried inside one of our older buildings, so we’re going to take that out and put it in the building that our Fashion Design program is moving out of at the corner of Cleveland and Long. So, that’s a new little store front which will be nice. Some day I hope to be able to open a retail store in those store fronts along Broad Street in the old Byers building. This would be a place where you can go and buy the works of our alumni and faculty. We do a lot of fine art but we’ve also got a ton of people in the design world. From our fashion program, we’ve got people that have designed great clothing, footwear, and watches for companies like NIKE and I think it would be really cool for people to see the products that this institution grew in a new high-end retail experience.

That’s on Denny’s “someday” list. I’m not sure that it’s going to happen real quick, but we’ll get it done eventually.

WE: That’s a really cool concept. I’m sure there’s lots of people that have bought things that have been designed by CCAD alumni and they just didn’t realize it.

DG: Yeah, who knew! Like this stuff that’s on this shelf up here behind me. The green and red and blue storage stuff made out of completely recycled material. It’s designed by a company called Evo Design, which is on the East Coast. Aaron Szymanski is a graduate of CCAD who started the company and they’re selling this stuff all over the country. Their products have had great press in some of the high-end living magazines. We’re going to do an exhibition in the Broad Street facility that really looks at the whole evolution of design concepts through manufacturing and execution. It will give a window on how this stuff works.

But your point is well taken. Who would know that something as mundane as a colander that’s made out of recycled material was actually made by someone from CCAD?

WE: I think it’s great that a lot of these types of experiences can cater to a more general public audience and not just to the college students who live in on campus. Speaking of which, you mentioned the convenience store and the art supply store, are those going to be open to the general public too?

DG: Oh yes. In fact our art supply store is now. It’s already sort of a well-known secret among the local artist community. You can come over here and get a pretty good deal on art supplies. But yeah, for the area to be a true neighborhood, it’s got to be a 24-hour neighborhood and it’s got to have all of the amenities of a viable neighborhood. So until we get some stuff like… I almost hate to bring up the drugstore thing because I do kind of worry about it…

WE: You mean like a CVS or Walgreens?

DG: Yeah, I mean… the great thing about what Jeff Edwards is doing is that it’s so hip and forward looking from a design perspective. In some ways, we’re kind of stuck with an architectural vernacular here at CCAD – it’s necessarily multi-story and kind of rectilinear… but I think George Acock’s done such a terrific job. He did the Loann Crane Center, he did The Design Square Apartments, and he’s also the architect that’s helping us with the adaptive reuse of the Byer’s Building. So, we’ve got sort of a look. You know, these are not ivy covered halls, but I think CCAD’s finally got kind of a heart and a little bit of soul to it. When I got here eleven years ago, it was just… well, there used to be these old houses here on Cleveland Avenue. You can go back and look in the corporate minutes they were commonly referred to as “crackhouses”. We owned them all, but they were just really downtrodden. We’ve made a lot of changes. It’s satisfying.

WE: Yeah, the area has come a long way. I can understand the concern of bringing in a chain or corporate entity and making sure they are held to a certain design and implementation standard. Whenever my wife Anne and I are walking into downtown, we cut through CCAD’s campus and walk down Gay Street because it’s a much more pleasant walk than Long or Spring where they’re just wide empty one-way thoroughfares.

DG: Isn’t the street-scaping along Gay Street amazing? They have that median strip, and the wrought-iron, and the plantings. It used to be an asphalt no-man’s land. It’s really got soul now.

WE: Yeah, I hope that it’s a renovation model for a lot of other streets Downtown.

DG: Me too.

WE: Well, kind of going back to what you said about the current art supply store being a well-known secret…

I’ve been to a handful of really great events here at CCAD, like the Columbus International Film + Video Festival, a CAMA meeting, gallery exhibits… but I get the vibe from a lot of other potential non-student patrons that CCAD is a place mainly for students.

In a city like Columbus, with OSU being as big as it is, do you sometimes feel as if CCAD as a whole is sort of a best kept secret?

DG: We’ve clearly tried to not have that be the case any longer, and that’s why we’ve put up this wonderful, preposterous art sculpture, which is really a sign. Our giant art sign was originally our effort to say “Here we are!”, and by raising your hand and saying “Here we are!”, it’s also implicitly saying “Come on down!”. So we love it when people come to campus.

I think we, like many institutions of higher-education, try to be great citizens, make ourselves welcoming and promote public programs. I don’t think we do that as well as we could. We’re now beginning to use instruments like the web and Facebook and Twitter. CCAD’s had its Facebook page for awhile, and we do send email blasts the same way everybody else does, but for the longest time the only way you could really alert the public to what’s going on is through a mass mailing.

Admittedly, I think our primary focus is to foster a community of applied, creative thinkers. We’re here to nurture the career and life expectations of ferociously talented young people first. But it’s so great to share it with people. When you come along and say “Hey Denny, let’s do an interview for Columbus Underground”, I think “Hallelujah”! This is the market we want to reach.

WE: Well, I’m glad to hear that and glad to help. Are there any current events or exhibits that you’d like to let people know about right now?

DG: We have an amazing exhibition series here. “Of Other Spaces” is downstairs right now. It’s a curatorial look at work that artists have made that respond to the nature of shapes and spaces; both the emotional and intellectual responses. It’s a high-analytical look at the relationship between the built-in spaces that are around us and human reaction to those things. James Voorhies is our Director of Exhibitions, and he’s done an exquisite little catalog for it. On the night of the opening, the Wexner Center staff was here, the art museum people, collectors in town, and I had out of town guests too. Everyone was saying, “My God, you guys are doing the most amazing, interesting, forward-looking programming here.”

We’d love to have more of the public come see it. It’s up until April 25, so people have plenty of time to see it. Jim, through CCAD, has organized our exhibitions through a sub-brand called the Bureau of Open Culture. It’s our exhibitions program, but it doesn’t just take place in the galleries. We have an ongoing community garden piece on the Near East side that’s part of that. He’s got a display wall in the Crane Center that is a series of projects from artists around the world that are doing off-site, off-location projects. The Bureau of Open Culture is really about art in the city and in this environment, which I think is right up Columbus Underground’s alley.

I would also add that for anyone who is a reader of CU, we certainly welcome your contact. We send out email blasts all the time, we have the art sale coming up on April 18, and other stuff like that. So anybody who wants to be in the know on openings, exhibits and guest lectures, get on our email list and I would invite a dialogue.

WE: Great! Well, thanks again for taking the time to share all of this info with us today!

DG: My pleasure!

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