Black Mountain College Celebration - Why Now

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

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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. 

The Spirit of Black Mountain College is the ONLY official 75th Anniversary celebration planned for this ground breaking and experimental college.  For further information, please reference the web site for Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, located in Asheville at www.blackmountaincollege.org.

Several artists now known around the world were associated with Black Mountain College as teachers or students. These included writer Charles Olson, composer John Cage, architect Buckminster Fuller, dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham, poet Robert Creeley, and potter and poet M.C. Richards. The following painters also taught at the school: Josef Albers, Jacob Lawrence, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline and Robert Motherwell. The recently deceased painter Robert Rauschenberg was one of its most famous students.

The college was a site for many innovations. Construction of the first large-scale geodesic dome was attempted at Black Mountain College by Buckminster Fuller in 1948. The first multimedia “happening,” staged by John Cage, occurred at the college in 1952. The Black Mountain Review (1954-1957) published influential writers such as Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder.

Several former students of poet Robert Creeley, a member of the Black Mountain College faculty, will speak and read from their own work at the Hickory festival. Other highlights will include a display of art at the Hickory Museum of Art; theatrical, musical and multi-media performances; and the North Carolina Dance Theatre.

The Spirit of Black Mountain College will also pay tribute to Jonathan Williams (1929-2008), a poet, publisher and photographer who attended Black Mountain College. He was the founder of The Jargon Society press, one of the most renowned small presses of the last half of the 20th century.

Writers who will speak at the festival include the following:

  • Galway Kinnell, a poet who has received the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and a MacArthur Fellowship.
     

  • Michael Rumaker, a 1955 graduate of Black Mountain College who is the author of 12 books, including “Black Mountain Days.”
     

  • Lisa Jarnot, a poet and novelist who teaches at Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics and at Brooklyn College.
     

  • Lee Ann Brown, a filmmaker, performer and writer who is a former student of Robert Creeley.
     

  • Jeff Davis, a poet, blogger, teacher and a student of both Robert Creeley and Fred Chappell. Davis attended UNC-Greensboro’s MFA program in creative writing and also apprenticed to a native carver of ceremonial masks and totem poles in Alert Bay, British Columbia.
     

  • Thomas Meyer, a poet whose writing reflects his wide-ranging interests and research.

Festival performances will include the following:

  • Thomas Rain Crowe and The Boatrockers, a North Carolina-based world-music, spoken-word band.
     

  • Ted Pope, a Morganton, N.C.-based electronic installation and multi-media performance poet. He will perform “The Black Mountains of Mars,” a piece written specifically for the event.
     

  • Cilla Vee — Life Arts will perform “Modus Operandi,” a spoof of a scientific experiment in the tradition of John Cage’s “chance” composition.
     

  • Lenoir-Rhyne Playmakers will perform “The Gunslinger” by Edward Dorn, a 1955 graduate of Black Mountain College. The piece is based on a five-volume poem, which is likened to “Canterbury Tales,” as a group of people search for enlightenment. The Playmakers will also perform “Collage in 4 Dimensions,” a multi-media performance inspired by the artists who taught at and emerged from Black Mountain College.
     

  • The North Carolina Dance Theatre will perform several pieces including “Night Creature” by Alvin Ailey, “Who Cares?” by George Balanchine, “Nine Sinatra Songs” by Twyla Tharp, and  “Verge” by Dwight Rhoden.
     

  • There will also be a musical performance by Nils Vigeland, chair of the composition department at the Manhattan School of Music, who studied with Black Mountain College composer Stefan Wolpe’s student Morton Feldman.
     

  • John Cheek, L-R professor of music and Fulbright Scholar, will perform several pieces by John Cage, a Black Mountain College faculty member, and by Erik Satie, a leader in the American experimental tradition.

The Hickory Museum of Art will present “The Spirit of Black Mountain College,” an exhibit that will run from Sept. 6 through Jan. 4. It will include two- and three-dimensional works by artists associated with Black Mountain College, including Anni Albers, Leo Krikorian, Ben Shahn, Robert Motherwell, Elaine de Kooning, Hazel Larsen Archer and 30 additional artists.