CCAD Master of Fine Arts students show their work at SOFA Chicago

Columbus College of Art & Design MFA candidates are creating an installation for the Sculpture Objects Functional Art and Design Fair, the premier gallery-presented art fair dedicated to three-dimensional art and design. 

Since 1994, the annual SOFA Fair in Chicago focuses on 3D artwork that crosses the lines of fine art, decorative art, and design. Each year the event draws about 80 dealers and 35,000 attendees. Fair sales are estimated at $15 million to $20 million. 

For the third year, candidates in Columbus College of Art & Design’s Master of Fine Arts in Visual Arts: New Projects will create an installation piece for SOFA CONNECT, an annual student competition hosted by SOFA Chicago. 

The theme of this year’s work: home.

“We are using the formal art element of line to connect audiences,” says Assistant Professor John Cairns, who is working with the first-year MFA candidates on the project. “There will be a minimal house frame structure made of clear PVC tubes and 3D printed connectors, and it will also be lit by LEDs. Student-made furniture will be arranged inside the ‘house’ structure for the audience and projections will be displayed representing the students’ personal expressions of hosting in one’s home. (You can find their full proposal on SOFA’s website.)

In the past, first-year MFA students have opted in (or out) of participating in SOFA. This year, it’s part of the program's curriculum.

“We wanted to make the experience part of the curriculum because we believed that all students should be a part of conceptualization, production process, research, and installation process. The exposure for the students is important and they will have an installation that will be viewed by ~ 35,000 people on Chicago’s Navy Pier, which is very good for their CVs. It was also unfair to ask the students to step away from their own personal goals in the program and by making the installation part of the curriculum, the students can focus on their own studio practice in addition to experiencing a group collaboration in a classroom setting,” Cairns says.

“The SOFA CONNECT competition is a wonderful opportunity to collaborate in a truly democratic way. It allows the student to continue focusing on their passions, find others with similar tastes, and it encourages stepping out of one’s comfort zone to create a work that is bigger than oneself,” Cairns says. 

SOFA Connect class students
SOFA connect student

This year’s CCAD participants in SOFA Chicago are:


Payal Atulkumar Bhalani, 

Theshima Ania Craver

Nicole Kristen Embree 

Keara Ryanne Henry

Alexander Wobst Jeney

Marian Deborah Lerner 

Yu Li

Me Liu

Ca Manley

Lydia Callan Prakel

Benjamin Edgar Rader

Jerome Wesley Stueart

Yu Su

Meredith Ann Swortwood

An Wang

Ji Zhao

Graduate Assistant

Shannon West 


Paul Tenwalde (MFA, 2018)

Ben Yacavone (MFA, 2016)

Faculty advisors

Professor and MFA Chair Kelly Malec-Kosak

Assistant Professor John Cairns


Administrative Assistant to the Deans Anastasia Leptak

SOFA Chicago runs Friday, Nov. 1–Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019. For details and tickets, visit

Learn more about CCAD’s Master in Fine Arts in Visual Arts: New Projects program or apply here.