CCAD is one of America’s oldest and most prestigious art and design schools. We got our start in 1879 — and people have been raving about us ever since. Even Oscar Wilde, when he stopped in Columbus in 1882, said he was impressed that “the capital city (has) a leading art school.”

Here’s a look at some memorable moments and milestones in CCAD’s history.

Columbus College of Art & Design was founded by five women. (Back then CCAD wasn’t called CCAD, though. We were known as the Columbus Art School.)

Classes were so popular our first year that First Lady Lucy Hayes, wife of President Rutherford B. Hayes, came to the school in our second year.

Writer Oscar Wilde came to Columbus and in a public lecture talked about how impressed he was that “the capital city (has) a leading art school.”

The first class of students graduated from CCAD.

We built Beaton Hall, the first facility constructed just for the school. It had no windows on the south side because, according to CCAD alum Bill Arter, “artists prefer to face north.”

Georgia O’Keeffe visited the school.

We added a number of programs including advertising, industrial design and illustration.

Joseph Canzani became the school’s leader. He oversaw rapid growth and change, beginning with the addition of a diploma program requiring 120 semester credit hours of work and a mandatory GPA of 2.0.

We officially changed our name to Columbus College of Art & Design.

The first class of CCAD students with Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees graduated.

Joseph Canzani became the college’s first President.

We opened our first residence hall.

We added animation and video programs, building our reputation as a hub for designers.

The Joseph V. Canzani Center was built, giving CCAD our first dedicated gallery and auditorium.


The idea for our iconic Art Sign is born. Ric Petry (who would later become our first Director of Graduate Studies) got the idea for a large, neon red, block-letter ART sign while serving as a visiting artist in Taiwan. He kept noticing a sign at a college on top of a hill in Taipei and envisioned an equally striking, placemaking landmark for CCAD. A few years later, he’d propose the idea to a new president, Denny Griffith. 

Artist and leader Denny Griffith was named President of CCAD. Over the next 16 years, until his retirement in 2014, he led the college through transformational change.

He expanded our campus, oversaw the installation of our 10-story Art Sign and helped develop our first graduate degree.

Student services and organizations expanded across campus.

On June 23, 2001, CCAD made a mark on the city skyline with our giant Art Sculpture. The piece is 100 feet tall, 101 feet wide, and weighs 62,100 pounds or 31 tons. (It also has zero bad angles when it comes to taking selfies.) The sculpture came to be after Ric Petry, now Professor Emeritus, joked that CCAD should build a giant ART sign inspired by 1950s diners. Then President Denny Griffith liked the idea. So we got a giant Art Sign that serves, as Denny said, “as a beacon for the arts in Columbus and beyond.”

CCAD launched its first graduate program, the Master of Fine Arts degree.

The first MFA class graduated.

State-of-the-art fabrication space, called the Tad Jeffrey FabLab, was built, housing 3D printers, laser cutters and machining equipment.

Dr. Melanie Corn was named first female President of CCAD.

We introduced our Comics & Narrative Practice program.

CCAD opens the state-of-the-art Cloyd Family Animation Center.

CCAD celebrates its 140th anniversary with a year of special programming, stories, and events, including a compilation of CCAD Found Footage taken over the decades from the college’s video archive. Watch it here.

It’s your turn to make history.

If you have any additional questions about the history of CCAD, please contact library staff at