The Cleveland Institute of Art was founded in 1882 as the Western Reserve School of Design for Women. The school began very small, holding classes in the home of its founder Sarah M. Kimball with only one student and one teacher, but it quickly grew. The school, despite its name, did attract a few male students and in 1892, the school was renamed the Cleveland School of Art. It became independent after plans for a merger with Western Reserve University fell through. In 1904 a new home for the school was built on Juniper and Magnolia Drives in University Circle. The school remained there until 1956, when it opened a larger facility nearby on East Boulevard. In 1949, the school took on its current name: the Cleveland Institute of Art. The school also purchased a former Ford assembly plant on Euclid Avenue in 1981, converting it into the Joseph McCullough Center for Visual Arts.
The Cleveland School of Art was also involved in the community of Cleveland. In 1917 the school began summer and weekend classes for adults and children. These classes continue today. History also affected the school, during the Great Depression the school took part in the WPA Federal Arts Project and during World War II mapmaking and medical drawing were added as courses. The school also added more academic courses overtime, although the original purpose of the school was to teach practical skills over theoretical academic ones.
In 2014 CIA left its Ford Drive building to consolidate into the McCullough Center on Euclid Avenue. At this time it built an addition called the George Gund Building on one side of the old factory building. Its former home on East Boulevard was demolished four years later to create additional green space in the heart of University Circle.