CCAD students break the ice by protesting global warming, cheering possums

Andy Downing
CCAD students work on protest signs

In “The Wild One,” a girl asks Marlon Brando’s character, “Hey, Johnny, what are you rebelling against?” “What’ve you got?” Brando replies in the now-famous exchange.

A similar what’ve-you-got mindset informed the Art of the Protest at Columbus College of Art & Design, a student ice-breaker turned exhibition for which nearly 100 students created protest signs addressing everything from climate change and female representation within the art world to cultural appropriation and the administration of President Donald Trump, among myriad other topics.

“There are a lot about climate change and environmental health, and a lot on art censorship and feminism, and some about smoking and vaping,” said CCAD senior Grace Oller, who crafted a sign inspired by a question the National Museum of Women in the Arts has asked each year during Women’s History Month in March since 2016: Can you name five women artists? “And there were some that were just kind of funny, like one that just had a bunch of pictures of possums and said, ‘More possums, less cellphones.’” Which, frankly, doesn’t sound too bad, regardless of the possum’s generally poor (and undeserved) public reputation.

Today, Sept. 10, students will march with their creations in hand, proceeding from CCAD’s AMF building at the intersection of Grant Avenue and Spring Street to the Canzani Center, located at 60 Cleveland Ave., where the signs will remain on display for the month. The march is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m., so keep this in mind if/when someone asks you about the motley crew spotted Downtown this afternoon that appeared to be protesting… everything?

The project was the brainchild of Tim Rietenbach, chair of the fine arts and contemporary crafts programs at CCAD, who was looking for a way the students within the contemporary craft, fine arts and art history programs could bond while doing something creative. “And it’s hard not to think about protests right now,” Rietenbach said.

“A couple of faculty [members] … had separate PowerPoints that talked about protest within the history of art, and then, with that PowerPoint, I put a bunch of slides of actual picket [signs] so students could access that information,” Rietenbach continued.

From there, it was up to individual students to consider what to do with their 2-by-3-foot sheet of white poster board, which sounds freeing, but could also be daunting. “I really had no idea what I wanted to talk about, because with a protest, typically, you know what you’re protesting and you make a sign accordingly,” Oller said.

There was also the added pressure of working within a group where artistic skills are abundant, but in a form where simplicity rules. “You could tell that some people were fighting the desire to make it a protest sign, but also wanting to make it this really beautiful painting,” Oller said, and laughed. “But, ultimately, these are [subjects] we all feel passionate about, so I think we all felt this sense of responsibility to what we were trying to protest. … It definitely led to overhearing some cool conversations as I walked around.”