It makes perfect sense that Corn was asked to serve on the board for the Washington Gladden Social Justice Park, a community project created by First Congregational Church.

Melanie Corn celebrated the completion of high-design streetscapes on the blocks surrounding the Columbus College of Art & Design at the end of the spring semester, beaming during a small ceremony that included former Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman and City Council President Shannon Hardin. The mid-May sun was already a bit much as it bounced off new pavers and blacktop, but landscaping lessened the effect to an extent, cooling the hundred or so spectators who paused to listen to Coleman’s proclamations that “Columbus is the best city” and Corn’s expressions of gratitude for the project. In between visiting food trucks and a screen-printing lab set up outside a one-day show featuring students’ best work of the year, the people in attendance were some of the earliest visitors to the safer, more pedestrian-friendly Gay and Ninth streets and Cleveland and Washington avenues around the school and the neighboring Columbus Museum of Art.

The upgrades are part of a so-called “creative campus” beautification that extends to Columbus State Community College, giving the 450 or so CCAD students who live on campus a better connection to the space where they live and work. (They represent about a third of the school’s enrollment.)

The changes also are part of a larger renaissance in the Discovery District, where the special improvement district, the two schools, the museum, the Columbus Metropolitan Library and corporate neighbors Motorists Insurance and State Auto are pulling together to create a bona fide neighborhood from what has been an emotionless collection of gray-faced city blocks dominated by surface parking lots and monolithic institutions. Of all the improvements, Corn’s favorite is just next door to CCAD’s Canzani Center on what, too, was a parking lot.

It makes perfect sense that Corn was asked to serve on the board for the Washington Gladden Social Justice Park, a community project created by First Congregational Church, which owns the lot. The park, which opened in October, features much-needed green space, of course, but art will play an important role, too. After a national call for artists to create a major sculpture that will live at Cleveland Avenue and East Broad Street, a selection committee soon will make its decision from two finalists, Corn says. The church has a proud history of advocating for the poor, people of color and the disenfranchised, and named the park after one of its most revered pastors, Washington Gladden.

“The church has been a great neighbor to CCAD for many years, and they’re a very open and welcoming congregation, with lots of different folks,” Corn says. “Part of First Congregational’s history was being one of the early abolitionist churches—their origin really comes from of a perspective of social justice. I’m a strong believer that art and design play a big role in the fight for social justice. When you think of the social justice movements from history, there are always artists and designers and creatives at the center of them. There is great power in art and design to help us make the world a better place.”

Speaking of passion projects, Corn has a call to action for each member CEO of the Columbus Partnership: Hire at least one graduate of Columbus College of Art & Design.

“CCAD is so focused on that process of trying and failing and the iterative process of creation. It’s so much a part of what we want our business folks to understand,” Corn says. “All of our students are required on a daily basis to get up in front of their peers, talk about their work, defend their work, so they’re great at multimodal communication. All of those core skills that business leaders talk about as the sort-of ‘21st Century skills’ that they’re looking for are things that are the core of what we do here.”