CCAD Celebrates Two Decades of the Art Sign

The Columbus art school created the beloved artwork 20 years ago to raise the college’s profile.

Chris Gaitten
The Art Sign today

On June 23, 2001, the Columbus College of Art & Design made an uncharacteristically bold move when it erected a 10-story sculpture spanning Gay Street. The bright red Art Sign was a shock coming from CCAD, something of an institutional wallflower until that point. 

It surprised even those within the CCAD community. Julie Taggart, an alum and faculty member at the time, says it took a little while for the sign’s scale—and the implied statement about the college’s new view of itself—to settle in. “We had to take ourselves a lot more seriously,” says Taggart, now CCAD’s provost. “We put a stake in the ground—literally.” 

The Art Sign was conceived half a world away, in Taipei, where photography professor Ric Petry was a visiting artist in the mid-1990s. He noticed a tower on a Taiwanese college campus that could be seen from all around and thought CCAD should have a similarly striking monument. When his close friend Denny Griffith became CCAD president in 1998, Petry pitched the sign as a way to highlight the unassuming college’s presence and importance to Columbus. 

The idea dovetailed well with Griffith’s vision for a larger and more prominent CCAD, one that had an unabashed place in the city’s civic conversations. Sold 

on the concept, Griffith began doing what he did best—connecting to people to bring the idea to life. “He did his Denny magic,” says Petry, now retired. Many people at CCAD still associate Griffith, who died in 2016, with the Art Sign, Taggart says, because he too was tall and thin and towered over campus. 

Over 20 years, the sign has helped bring CCAD out from the shadows and has become the college’s hallmark, though it looks far different today than Petry first planned.

The Art Sign being constructed in 2001

Fun Facts 

  • Only two aspects of Petry’s original concept remain: the word and the color. His early design involved a neon red “ART” sign on top of the Canzani Center with an arrow flashing down toward campus, in the style of the retro sign at the shuttered Tee Jaye’s in Clintonville. 
  • Construction and most of the funding came courtesy of CCAD alumni Dale and Grant Beavers and their company, Artglo. It was designed by Artglo’s Doris Shlayn, and it took 10 hours to install. 
  • Petry and Taggart were stunned by its size. The steel sculpture measures 100 feet tall and 101 feet wide, and it weighs 62,100 pounds, about the same as five full-grown African bush elephants, the world’s largest land animal. 
  • The “A” was built to sway about 18 inches in the wind. 
  • Though they don’t have definitive numbers, CCAD officials say that the sign is by far the most photographed place on campus. 
  • It has also played a role in many classroom assignments. Petry recalls one video project in which a student used special effects to make himself the size of Godzilla, laying waste to campus and the sign.