September 25-27, 2008
Hickory, N.C.

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The Spirit of Black Mountain College 75th Anniversary

The Mission:

•  To celebrate the life and legacy of Black Mountain College, which is recognized around the world as one of the most important educational and artistic movements of the 20th century in United States. The work of BMC artists can be seen and heard in museums and concert halls across the globe.

•  To celebrate BMC’s attempt to reform higher education in the United States by emphasizing the arts and creative reasoning. To stimulate meaningful discussions about the current state of education at all levels.

•  To bring together local, regional, and nationally recognized artists who embody the experimental Spirit of Black Mountain College.

•  To collaborate with arts organizations on a local and regional level—Hickory, Asheville, and Charlotte.

•  To prepare the way for the establishment of a Black Mountain College Summer Institute at Lenoir-Rhyne College beginning summer 2009.


Dates: Thursday, September 25-Saturday, September 27, 2008

Locations: Lenoir-Rhyne College, Hickory Museum of Art and the greenway
between these two locations.

Sponsors: Lenoir-Rhyne College in Hickory and Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center in Asheville.

Lead Partners: The Hickory Museum of Art; North Carolina Dance Theater

Why Black Mountain College? Why now? BMC, 1933-1957, was one of the most important and influential experiments in education in the 20th century. Its teachers and students went on to shape dance, music, theatre, literature, architecture, and the visual arts for the next several decades. BMC was also a response to the rigid educational models that produced passive students spreading across the US at the beginning of the 20th century. So, its vision was one of engaged learning fueled by a conscious attention to the role of the imagination and arts. Educational reform is in the air in the US today—reform based upon arts integrated learning. So BMC is an idea whose time has come.


Black Mountain College: An Introduction

The story of Black Mountain College begins in 1933 and comprises a fascinating chapter in the history of education and the arts. Conceived by John A. Rice, a brilliant and mercurial scholar who left Rollins College in a storm of controversy, Black Mountain College was born out of a desire to create a new type of college based on John Dewey’s principles of progressive education. The events that precipitated the College’s founding occurred simultaneously with the rise of Adolf Hitler, the closing of the Bauhaus by the Nazis, and the beginning of the persecution of artists and intellectuals on the European continent. Some of these people found their way to Black Mountain, either as students or faculty. Meanwhile, the United States was mired in the Great Depression, and Franklin Roosevelt, committed to putting people back to work, established the Public Works Arts Project (a precursor of the WPA).

The founders of the College believed that the study and practice of art were indispensable aspects of a student’s general liberal arts education, and they hired Josef Albers to be the first art teacher. Speaking not a word of English, he and his wife Anni left the turmoil in Hitler’s Germany and crossed the Atlantic Ocean by boat to teach art at this small, rebellious college in the mountains of North Carolina.

Black Mountain College was fundamentally different. It was owned and operated by the faculty and was committed to democratic governance and to the idea that the arts are central to the experience of learning. There were no grades, and each student participated fully in their educational path and timetable. All members of the College community took part in its operation, including farm work, construction projects and kitchen duty. Located in the midst of the beautiful North Carolina mountains near Asheville, the secluded environment fostered a strong sense of individuality and creative intensity within the small College community.

Legendary even in its own time, Black Mountain College attracted and created maverick spirits, some of whom went on to become well-known and extremely influential individuals in the latter half of the 20th century. A partial list includes people such as Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg, Josef and Anni Albers, Jacob Lawrence, Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Cy Twombly, Kenneth Noland, Ben Shahn, Franz Kline, Arthur Penn, Buckminster Fuller, M.C. Richards, Francine du Plessix Gray, Charles Olson, Dorothea Rockburne and many others, famous and not-so-famous, who have impacted the world in a significant way. Even now, decades after its closing in 1956, the powerful influence of Black Mountain College continues to reverberate.

For more information contact BMCCelebration@lrc.edu