Students socialize and study in the converted warehouse where The Creative Circus is located in the Morningside neighborhood. The school announced it will close permanently next year after nearly 30 years of training students to work in the advertising industry. (The Creative Circus)

Atlanta’s renowned The Creative Circus advertising portfolio school is no longer enrolling new students and will close its doors permanently in late 2023. The news comes after years of declining enrollment compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The two-year, for-profit school made the announcement April 5 on social media it would be closing, citing a “myriad of factors.” They include a steady decline in student enrollment over the past four years, a growing trend at many universities and career schools. The school’s costly tuition — more than $45,000 — plus an evolving media landscape and content creation likely played a role as well in the enrollment slump.

In 2020, the pandemic forced The Creative Circus, located in the Lindridge-Martin Manor neighborhood, to conduct a year of virtual learning in areas such as graphic design, copywriting, brand strategy, and art direction. That led to a loss of more students expecting the hands-on training the 27-year-old school is known for.

“It hit us pretty hard,” said Executive Director David Haan.

David Haan, executive director of The Creative Circus for the past 13 years.

“Over the course of three, four years, our enrollment has gone pretty consistently down until it reached the point where … it tends to hurt the overall educational experience,” he said. “So we made the call that we were at a point where we didn’t think that we could do justice to what the students were expecting.”

About five years ago, the Creative Circus enrolled more than 200 students from across the country and globe interested in brand strategy, art direction, graphic design, copywriting. They used their skills to create portfolios and many went on to land jobs at some of the top ad agencies in New York, Chicago, California and Atlanta. About 2,000 students have graduated from the school since it opened in 1995.

Then about four years ago, enrollment dropped to about 150 and last year, numbers dipped to fewer than 100.

“It’s just not sustainable anymore,” Haan said.

The school is considered “iconic” by Adweek, a publication for the marketing and advertising communities, which reported on its closing last week.

Several Creative Circus graduates went on to make or assist in making memorable Super Bowl commercials, some of the most-watched advertising in the world. The school even has a highlight reel of these commercials.

Miami Ad School, another well-known portfolio school with an Atlanta campus, is taking in students who enrolled at the Creative Circus before its closure was announced. The Creative Circus will officially close after its current crop of students graduate in September 2023 and the school helps them find jobs, Haan said.

The Creative Circus logo.

“In the musical ‘Camelot,’ King Arthur says, ‘I want people to remember once there was a shining place that was called Camelot,” Haan said.

“We had our time [at the Creative Circus], it was a great time, and now events have brought us to other directions,” he said.

“For 27 years, this was one of the most significant places in the world for training creative talent. While a lot of people in Atlanta didn’t know much about us, people in marketing, advertising and communications all over the world knew about us.

“So we helped put Atlanta on the map in its own way,” Haan said.

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.