College is in the heart of the Discovery District and at the core of the creative economy.

College is in the heart of the Discovery District and at the core of the creative economy.

Chances are you've seen it on the Downtown cityscape: A 100-foot-tall street-spanning steel sculpture that spells out the word "ART," in Columbus College of Art & Design's signature red. The work was erected in 2001, but the art and design school started making its mark many decades ago.

Founded in 1879 as Columbus Art School, the institution has graduated thousands of artists, designers and creators. Alumni are around the world and in the employ of all types of companies, including places like American Greetings, DreamWorks, General Motors and Nike.

CCAD is also a key part of Columbus' vibrant creative economy. A Columbus Partnership study from 2012 finds the city's creative sector generates over $3 billion annually in business, $932 million in wages and $67 million in state and local tax revenues and employs more than 25,000 people.

"I believe (CCAD is) the hub of the creative community," says Greater Columbus Arts Council President and CEO Tom Katzenmeyer. "If you're a creative person, there are a lot of reasons to come to Columbus, Ohio and attend CCAD, in terms of what the offerings here are, the key partnerships they have," he adds, pointing to CCAD's involvement in the Cartoon Crossroads Columbus comics festival and its partnership with the Ohio Film Group to bring a state-of-the-art digital post-production facility to campus.

One of those drawn to Columbus and CCAD is Melanie Corn, Ph.D., who became the college's first woman president in March after serving as provost at California College of the Arts.

"CCAD is a place where we believe in art for art's sake and education for education's sake, but we also believe that higher education today is a big investment, and we should work with our students to make sure they get a good return on their investment in education," Corn says.

In addition to traditional studio classes and access to high-tech tools like 3-D printers, laser cutters and machining equipment, students can also minor in areas such as business.

Learning derived from an art and design education is broadly applicable, "so not only can you come here and get a great education to be an artist or designer, you can also come here and get a great education to be a librarian, a lawyer, a business owner, an entrepreneur," says Corn.

Higher education is going through challenges in terms of affordability and changing demographic, as the number of college-age students declines, Corn acknowledges. "In order to maintain and continue to grow our enrollment, we need to expand our reach."

"One of my goals is to diversify our student body in terms of many factors, one of which is region," she says. About two-thirds of CCAD students are Ohioans. "It's great to be a regional educational service provider, but I think growing our reputation requires growing our student body to have it be more reflective of a national and international student body," Corn says.

The institution also is adding to its academic offerings. Starting in fall 2017, CCAD will have new undergraduate majors in Comics & Narrative Practice and Contemporary Crafts, in addition to the majors it already offers: Advertising & Graphic Design, Animation, Cinematic Arts, Fashion Design, Fine Arts, History of Art & Visual Culture, Illustration, Industrial Design, Interior Design and Photography. It's also offering a new master's degree: Master of Design in Integrative Design, which complements a Master of Fine Arts degree the school debuted in 2010. Enrollment, currently 1,200, could comfortably grow to 1,600 while keeping its student-faculty ratio-now 10:1-low, Corn says.

Beverly Ryan, Ologie founder and senior partner, attended CCAD in the '80s and recently left CCAD's board after nine years. The branding and marketing agency mentors employees of MindMarket, CCAD's student agency, and works with the college on projects such as its annual fashion show. Ologie employs eight CCAD grads; Ryan says she'd love to hire more.

"CCAD produces a lot of really conceptual, highly intellectual, thoughtful people," Ryan says. "I've been to a lot of art and design schools … and there is definitely a difference. The kids are more communal, it's more community-based. It's not as cutthroat and competitive. They all lift each other up."

Jennifer Wray is associate editor.