CCAD President Melanie Corn on the Value of an Art & Design Education

Dr. Melanie Corn is the president of Columbus College of Art & Design. She has studied art history and worked in higher education for nearly two decades. So she knows first-hand how valuable an art and design education can be — especially in today’s economy.

We asked her to share some of her insights.

Dr. Melanie Corn on arts education

The Value of an Art & Design Education

By CCAD President Dr. Melanie Corn

Education today is a big investment, but it’s worth it — especially in art and design.

The creative economy is booming, fueled largely by art and design grads.

And creative-minded people aren’t just working in the creative sector. Graduates of art and design programs are increasingly working in top roles in industries including business, medicine, and technology.

That’s because creativity is now the decisive source of competitive advantage for many companies.

Creative skills — including rule breaking, synthesizing, and thinking through making — are critical to drive all industries in the highly competitive conceptual age and creative economy.

But, the focus on creative skills is not in the business world alone, and design thinking is not only useful for making prettier objects and more efficient companies. These skills, when added to trans-disciplinary teams, are critical to solving the world’s wicked problems. Originally applied in the 1970s to social planning, the term “wicked problems” refers to problems that are wicked because they are without a solution or a clear, direct, and disciplinary way to resolve them. Because of this, tackling wicked problems requires creative collaboration, imagination, and trans-disciplinary problem-solving — all skills at which artists and designers excel.

Clearly, art and design colleges are critical in the development of the creative class that will lead the new creative economy as well as play a vital role in solving the 21st century’s problems. Columbus College of Art & Design provides just such an education for the creative marketplace — an education in which students acquire a well-honed skillset more in demand than ever.

But, in many ways, as important as the content is, a CCAD education is distinguished by a set of process-oriented learning approaches including critique, iteration, collaboration, project-based learning, and problem creation. To pause for a moment on problem creation, I would argue that although a quality STEM or liberal arts education will provide critical analysis and problem-solving skills, an art and design education provides that as well as training in a creative practice that develops through the discovery and conceptualizing of new problems. After all, meeting tomorrow’s business, environmental, and societal challenges first requires a creative mind who can look ahead to envision what that new problem might be.

Many of these approaches to learning are distinctive to an art and design education and represent valuable training in 21st century skills. When employers are asked about the skills they need most in new graduates, when entrepreneurs are asked to reflect on the skills most important for their own successes, when scholars and activists write about the skills that it will take to solve the world’s wicked problems — to enact social justice, to truly change the world — it’s these skills. It’s what students learn to do so well in their time here at CCAD.

I’m not an artist. I’m not a designer. But I’ve been working in higher education for almost 20 years, and I can honestly say that the students at CCAD work harder than I ever did in college. And, their degrees will have great value in this world where the creative economy is thriving, communities need artists and designers to help make positive social change, and value is measured in more than dollars.


Read more in our series CCAD Means Success.


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