Heidemann Takes the Helm at CIA
When the Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA) went looking for a new president on the heels of Grafton Nunes’ retirement, they found the ultimate candidate in their own house, but Kathryn Heidemann only landed there after a life lived on the world stage.
The Detroit native grew up at points across the globe courtesy of her father’s career with Jeep (AMC), which took the family from the Motor City to Brisbane, Australia; Caracas, Venezuela; and Frankfurt, Germany before ending up back in Detroit. Her secondary education included stints at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Columbia College Chicago and finally, Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where she earned her Master of Arts Management.
Heidemann put down roots in the land of Three Rivers, serving her alma mater in a handful of positions which culminated in assistant dean of the College of Fine Arts and Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy. Her service extended to the civic realm as well; Heidemann was the city’s Art Commissioner for nearly five years. Then in 2019, she accepted the position of chief academic officer/dean of faculty and vice president of academic affairs at CIA with the potential of succession planning as part of the mix.
“It did not have a bearing on my decision to come here,” says Heidemann of the possibility of landing in the school’s top office. “I was just as much interested in the opportunities in Cleveland—and that includes the challenges.” She was promoted to chief operating officer and senior vice president in 2021 and became president and CEO of CIA on July 1, 2022.
The 44-year-old notes her years in Detroit and Pittsburgh saw population declines and disinvestment similar to what Cleveland has endured over the last several decades. And while she heartily recognizes art and design as healing tools, when combined with education they can also fuel economic development with urban design, placemaking, and civic engagement. Heidemann should know; she spent eight years with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, a nonprofit economic and cultural development entity focused on bringing those components to that city’s downtown area. The position instilled in her a unique perspective on urban development.
“What I see are huge opportunities for CIA to be a part of Cleveland’s next iteration of itself.”
The palette before Heidemann to help reveal what’s next is already blooming courtesy of new and upcoming campaigns aimed at enhancing the institution’s established resources and legacy. Not surprisingly, the efforts start with the students, who are becoming harder and harder to attract these days on account of shifting demographics, a white-hot job market, and evolving attitudes about higher education.
Amy Morona quantified the phenomenon for Crain’s Cleveland Business (10/10/22): “More than 710,470 students enrolled at Ohio’s private, public and for-profit institutions in 2010. That number would fall to less than half a million a decade later. The state’s public institutions saw about a 30 percent drop over that time.”
That drop is exactly what Heidemann references when asked about what wakes her up at night. “There just aren’t as many eighteen-year-olds in the country as there were twenty years ago. People are having less children. They’re having them later in life. That’s not something that we can control,” says the mother of two, adding that she’s done her part to contribute to the population. “I’ve had two babies and that’s about all I can do at this point.”
Quips aside, Heidemann continues: “We’re a college, but we’re still a business and we have to make sure we’re relevant. And that we can continue to deliver our curriculum, but also be proactive with what’s next as well.”
In order to attract more students, Heidemann cites a partnership CIA established with Cuyahoga Community College earlier this year that offers Tri-C students a stalwart leg up with admittance to the venerable arts school—a whole year’s worth. Students who complete a specified curriculum and are admitted to CIA will transfer with thirty semester units of credit and enter the college as sophomores. In addition, CIA joined the Say Yes scholarship program with an agreement to offer up to five scholarships each year to eligible students from the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. Per Say Yes Cleveland, the organization aims to “increase education levels of Cleveland residents; boost and retain population in the city of Cleveland; improve college access for middle- and low-income families in Cleveland; and spur economic growth and expansion in the region.”
“We have to work really hard to make sure to maintain quality of student and deliver a great curriculum,” says Heidemann, adding the efforts are paying off. “This year our new class is quite strong and we’re approaching our pre-pandemic numbers.”
The forward thinking is spilling outside the iconic walls of the 140-year-old institution as well. The Cleveland Foundation tapped CIA to launch an Interactive Media Lab (IML) on its new campus at East 66th Street and Euclid Avenue, where construction of the foundation’s new headquarter building is well underway. Slated to open in spring 2025, the 13,000-square-foot IML will occupy a two-story corner space in the new 95,000-square-foot MidTown Collaboration Center. It will house classrooms, demonstration rooms, a demonstration theater, offices, and an exhibition space as part of the Cleveland Foundation’s plan for the sprawling twelve-acre $400-million innovation district.
For its part, CIA will combine its “academic program and an incubator that builds business capacity using augmented reality, virtual reality and artificial intelligence within the context of arts and design. It will feature a state-of-the-art AR/VR/AI production studio used by students and startups, and it will serve as a hub for artist- and designer-driven content, discourse and development,” noted Heidemann in July.
“This will be a really great opportunity,” she says, adding that the IML will be a place for education, collaboration, and connection and for “highlighting these immersive technologies within the context of art and design.” Situated in the Hough neighborhood midway between Downtown and University Circle with access to public transportation, the location for the new IML plays a significant role. “We’re planning to expand our presence there, and community engagement is a really important part of that,” says Heidemann.
“It will be, in my opinion, probably one of the most catalytic community engagement initiatives we’ve ever had.”
The post-pandemic world, of course, has added new layers to old challenges. “It’s taken a toll on our faculty,” says Heidemann, reiterating an all-too-familiar phenomenon that has special implications in the academic world. “You can’t take care of students if you can’t take care of faculty.” To target this concern, CIA launched the Jane B. Nord Center for Teaching + Learning earlier this year.
“The Center was a really important priority for me from the day I walked in,” says Heidemann, who benefitted from a similar amenity during her years at Carnegie Mellon.
The Nord Center aims to support the development of CIA’s approximately fifty full-time and sixty adjunct faculty members with an array of workshops, guest speakers, and one-on-one consultation. The fledgling effort will focus on complexities such as whole student support, navigating social issues, and situations such as multi-generational teaching.
“It’s not uncommon to have an eighteen-year-old, a thirty-year-old and a sixty-year-old in the same class,” says Heidemann of CIA’s diverse student body. “We have a lot of students with divergent learning styles.” Heidemann has complete confidence in the Nord Center’s new director, Kari Weaver PhD, to meet the needs of their instructors. “She has just hit the ground running,” notes Heidemann, adding that a faculty teaching summit is in the works. And while participation in Center activities is encouraged, says Heidemann, it’s not mandatory.
“I don’t want to ‘voluntold’ anyone.”
Voluntold? It’s hard to imagine any such schoolmarmishness from Heidemann. After all, she’s a bona fide rocker, with stints as a bass guitarist in bands such as Rockit Girl, Garter Snake, and Blindsider.
“Alternative rock, punk, metal, country … I’ve done it all,” says Heidemann, adding one purposeful exception: “I am not a solo artist.” Being part of a band, she notes, requires compromise, co-creation, conflict management, and the savvy to know when to let someone else take the spotlight. “Sometimes I’ve been the leader of the band, and sometimes I’ve been just a bass player.”
It would be a mischaracterization to call Heidemann just the Cleveland Institute of Art’s new president, because she’ll always be a student of sorts.
“Every few days,” she says, “I learn something new.”