Innovating with applied creativity

Denny Griffith, President, Columbus College of Art & Design

Denny Griffith, President, Columbus College of Art & Design

Denny Griffith doesn’t have to try too hard to bring creativity into his organization. At the Columbus College of Art & Design, where he’s president, it already runs in everyone’s blood. His job is applying that creativity to achieve the college’s mission of preparing tomorrow’s creative leaders for professional careers.

“Applied creativity” is the college’s term for innovation, and it’s just as much a part of its DNA as the artistic creativity that manifests in paintings and sculptures. But this kind of creativity transcends into Griffith’s leadership, resulting in a growing organization.

Since coming on board as the college’s third president in 1998, Griffith has overseen renovations and new construction — like Design Square Apartments, the Loann Crane Center for Design and the college’s famous 10-story ART sculpture — not to mention the growth he’s seen academically and in community outreach and exhibition programs.

On top of it all, Griffith still teaches some painting and business classes and continues his personal work as an artist.

Because of this, Smart Business, U.S. Bank and Blue Technologies named Griffith to the 2011 class of Columbus Smart Leader honorees. He shared how he overcomes challenges and innovates as a leader to keep the college on the creative edge.

Give us an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.

When I arrived at CCAD in 1998, it was clear we needed to improve the quality of our facilities and academic infrastructure to elevate our institution’s competitiveness with other regional and national leaders in art and design education. Over eleven years, we completed a 25-year campus master plan. We accomplished this via careful planning, constituent input and leveraging both our borrowing capacity and growing philanthropic profile to obtain the requisite financial resources to build and renovate a number of buildings. We now have the ‘urban learning village’ we dreamed of. And, along with our neighbors — Columbus State, State Auto and the Columbus Museum of Art — are working with the city to further develop the neighborhood as the ‘Creative Campus.’ So we have critical mass and collaboration, and it seems to be about to garner city investment in neighborhood infrastructure. All good stuff.

In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?

CCAD is by its nature concerned with fostering innovation, or what we call ‘Applied Creativity.’ Our graduates can be found across the country and around the world, in businesses large and small, in the entertainment and fashion industries, and in galleries and museums. In every way, CCAD alumni shape culture. And so innovation and creativity are part of our DNA.

As a leader, I simply try to support my people as best I can with the resources available. I also try to do my job with joy and with vigor. Leadership to me means setting the vision and developing a splendid team, then giving that team a great deal of responsibility, freedom and accountability, and getting out of their way so they can use their special expertise to advance the college.

How do you make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?

We work to continually improve the college and increasingly engage it with our community via internships, service projects, cultural and educational interactions, and the happy pursuit of beauty, creativity, design innovation, memorable visual communication, and the unabashed celebration of individuality. We are the leading economic development engine for the creative economy.

How to reach: Columbus College of Art & Design,

See all 2011 Columbus Smart Leaders on the next page.