Monday, August 20, 2001

Art Academy design is on the bunny

Students applaud unconventional catalog

By Ben L. Kaufman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Art Academy of Cincinnati's unconventional catalog — designed to resemble the chaos of a student sketch book — is drawing national acclaim.

Russell Ihrig designed the Art Academy course catalog.
(Tony Jones photos)
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        New York-based Print, which calls itself “America's graphic design magazine,” has rated it among the best in an unscientific and informal poll of New York art students and parents.

        It's a rare recognition that puts the “up and coming” Mount Adams institution ahead of some biggies on both coasts, said Ellen Shapiro, the designer/writer who conducted the poll.

        “Being a little daring is what graphic designers admire,” she said. “This is a little school that is doing a lot.”

        In recent years, Cincinnati academy catalogs have gained almost a cult status, with art students, designers and other design schools collecting them. The Art Academy gives out 10,000 catalogs a year.

Ihrig says the cover's message is “color outside the lines.”
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        The school, offering bachelor's and master's degrees, has about 225 students.

        Its current catalog has a carelessly colored childlike drawing of a bunny on the cover. Its message, says junior Russell Ihrig of Alexandria, was to “color outside the lines.”

        Mr. Ihrig originally drew the bunny for an academy T-shirt contest and placed second. It reflects his feelings about freedom at the school, he says, and his fascination with coloring books.

        “I love it when kids scribble. They've got something that adults have totally lost,” he said.

        Mark Thomas, head of the academy's communication arts department, says high school kids loved it, but some adults did not.

        One was Ms. Shapiro.

  • Facilities: Original building in Eden Park, the converted Mount Adams elementary school, River City sculpture studio in Over-the-Rhine and a former caretaker's cottage in French Park.
  • Enrollment: About 225 students.
  • Degrees: Bachelor of fine arts in fine arts or communication arts; associate's degree in graphic design; master's in art education.
  • Tuition: For a bachelor's degree it's $12,750 per year.
  • Term starts: Aug. 27.
        “I didn't truly understand or appreciate the bunny,” she said.

        So she asked her senior seminar at Purchase College/State University of New York and some high school art students at Irvington, N.Y., to appraise the book along with about 15 other catalogs from top art academies.

        The speed with which they flipped through them was humbling, Ms. Shapiro said, but the bunny inspired positive feelings, especially compared to catalogs by the more famous Parsons School of Design, Cooper Union, Rhode Island School of Design and Yale University School of Art.

        Many students said “This could be a cool place to go to school,” she recalled.

        Seminar student David Panarelli said the bunny was a “hot topic.”

        Some classmates said it was whimsical and humanizing, in a pile of often-presumptuous and intimidating catalogs; others said it was a signal that Cincinnati was not a place to advance serious artistic endeavors.

        Print's article, “Cover Bunnies and Beyond,” ran in the magazine's current issue.

        Cincinnatian Lori Siebert designed this year's Art Academy catalog, as well as the school's 1999 and 2000 catalogs. Eighty pages of lavish color, they resemble student sketch books.

        Almost everything in the Siebert catalogs — except for course descriptions and application materials — was done by students or faculty, including goofy pictures teachers took of themselves in a photo booth.

        Most important: the catalogs are attracting desirable students, said Mary Jane Zumwalde, director of admissions.

        Autumn Schrader, a junior studying sculpture, said the catalog was central to her college choice.

        An art teacher at Versailles (Ohio) High School showed her the first catalog in the unconventional Siebert series aimed at visually attuned youngsters rather than parents.

        “I want to go to that school, because they use duct tape on their catalog,” Ms. Schrader recalled saying. Other catalogs were “too vanilla.”

        Duct tape is what students use when their sketch books begin to fall apart.

        The 2001-02 catalog will be used again next year.


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