Meet Melanie Corn, CCAD's new president

Kristen Schmidt, Columbus Alive

The Columbus College of Art and Design announced today Melanie Corn will be the institution's fifth president. The hire comes after the short-lived tenure of Thomas White, who was president from June 2014 until March 2015. White replaced longtime president Denny Griffith, who retired in June 2014.

Corn has as an academic background in art history and is the current provost at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. That job has her in a big-picture role, responsible for faculty, curriculum and strategic vision. She'll start the job in Columbus in March 2016.

The question in Columbus is, "Where are you from?" So where are you from, and had you been to Columbus before you started interviewing for the CCAD job?

I grew up outside Chicago, in the northern suburbs. My folks still live there. I actually visited Columbus a few times for academic conferences at Ohio State, so I was familiar with the area as a visitor. In fall 2014, I had the pleasure of being on campus at CCAD for a symposium. It was really great to be able to spend some time on campus then. It was really exciting to see a lot of their branding and messaging about really preparing students.

How did you come to apply for the job?

I know Denny through the professional network, so I remember when he left and, at the time, the first round of CCAD doing a search. I kind of kept my eye on it then, but I wasn't quite ready and there was a lot happening at CCA. I kept my eye on it, and when things didn't work out with the next president, I got a call in July from the search firm. They thought I would be a great candidate and really encouraged me to throw my hat in the ring. This was the only thing I was looking at this fall; everything's great at CCA. But I think because of the exciting things that are going on at CCAD and in Columbus, it was a good opportunity.

You have a classic academic background, so how have your thoughts about art school evolved?

Over the last 12 years, I've become a convert to the educational model. I tell people a lot of art students work harder than I ever did as an undergrad at Stanford. The model of learning through making, focusing on critique and the iterative process is such a great way to learn anything. I think these students are at a great advantage.

How did you wind up in a college administration role?

My parents are in education in different ways. My father was a professor at a community college and then he was an administrator. My mom was a guidance counselor. When I started this journey, I thought I would go down the traditional professor route, but I soon realized that wasn't my great interest. While I love art history and it's been great to teach a class, the sort of lonely and solitary nature of academic research isn't where my heart lies. What I excel at is the more collaborative, community-based work of organizational leadership. It's where I found my strength and my interest, which is lucky.

What are some initial priorities you hope to address at CCAD?

I truly believe that an art and design education provides the best of a liberal arts education, along with those more distinctive, very practical skills of learning through making. That being said, while of course we want to prepare students to be able to live their dreams and passions being an artist and designer, unlike the maybe old-fashioned notion of the solitary artist, most of our students want to make a living. Wouldn't it be great if they could do that with their creative practice? This is really essential, to demonstrate to the students and teach the students how they cannot compromise the values of their creative practice in order to actually gain the economic value of their practice. That's one of the core messages that CCAD is already communicating quite well.

As a relatively small, tuition-driven institution, we always have to be attentive to enrollment. The school is strong and stable, but these are challenging times in higher education. We're trying to think about how we can expand outreach as an institution. I mean that both geographically - while not taking our eye off Columbus and Ohio, how can we attract more students? - but how can we attract students who maybe aren't thinking about art school?

Anything you're particularly looking forward to exploring here once you get settled?

I'm definitely looking forward to exploring the amazing [Columbus Museum of Art], the Wexner Center, the art and cultural scene in Columbus. I'm hearing really great things about the more DIY artist spaces that are popping up. And I have a 7-year-old son, so I'm probably equally excited that Columbus has a great zoo.

  • 40 years old
  • Fifth president of the Columbus College of Art and Design
  • Currently provost, California College of the Arts, San Francisco
  • Grew up outside Chicago
  • Her academic work explored the intersections between 20th century art and feminist theory. Her master's thesis focused on the work of photographer Catherine Opie, and her undergraduate thesis was on "1980s feminist art outside the gallery space," Corn said. "My post-master's work was turned a little bit and was focused on visual art in the age of AIDS, particularly in New York City and Los Angeles."

Education:

  • Doctor of education, University of Pennsylvania
  • Master of arts in art history, University of California Santa Barbara
  • Bachelor of arts in history, Stanford University

Source: CCAD, interview