|Type||Liberal arts college|
|Director||John Andrew Rice (until 1940)|
|Students||about 1,200 total|
|Location||Asheville and Black Mountain, North Carolina, United States|
Black Mountain College Historic District
|Nearest city||Black Mountain, North Carolina|
|Area||586.9 acres (237.5 ha)|
|Architectural style||Bungalow/craftsman, International Style|
|NRHP reference #||82001281|
|Added to NRHP||October 5, 1982|
Black Mountain College, a school founded in 1933 in Black Mountain, North Carolina (near Asheville, North Carolina), was a new kind of college in the United States in which the study of art was seen to be central to a liberal arts education, and in which John Dewey's principles of education played a major role. Many of the school's students and faculty were influential in the arts or other fields, or went on to become influential. Although notable even during its short life, the school closed in 1957 after only 24 years. The history and legacy of Black Mountain College are preserved and extended through Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, in downtown Asheville, NC.
The school's Lake Eden campus, used from 1941 to 1957, is now part of Camp Rockmont, a summer camp for boys, and the adjacent Lake Eden Events & Lodging.
Founded in 1933 by John Andrew Rice, Theodore Dreier, Frederick Georgia, and Ralph Lounsbury, all dismissed faculty members of Rollins College, Black Mountain was experimental by nature and committed to an interdisciplinary approach, attracting a faculty that included many of America's leading visual artists, composers, poets, and designers, like Buckminster Fuller, who developed the geodesic dome.
Operating in a relatively isolated rural location with little budget, Black Mountain College inculcated an informal and collaborative spirit and over its lifetime attracted a venerable roster of instructors. Some of the innovations, relationships, and unexpected connections formed at Black Mountain would prove to have a lasting influence on the postwar American art scene, high culture, and eventually pop culture.Buckminster Fuller met student Kenneth Snelson at Black Mountain, and the result was their first geodesic dome (improvised out of Venetian blind slats in the school's back yard); Merce Cunningham formed his dance company; and John Cage staged his first happening (the term itself is traceable to Cage's student Allan Kaprow, who applied it later to such events).
Not a haphazardly conceived venture, Black Mountain College was a consciously directed liberal arts school that grew out of the progressive education movement. In its day it was a unique educational experiment for the artists and writers who conducted it. The college was active at a time when other Southern colleges and universities remained segregated, and a decade before Brown v. Board of Education, an African American woman named Alma Stone Williams is considered by some to be the first black student to enroll in an all-white institution of higher education in the South during the Jim Crow era.
Additionally, the College was an important incubator for the American avant garde. Black Mountain proved to be an important precursor to and prototype for many of the alternative colleges of today ranging from College of the Atlantic, Naropa University, the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Marlboro College to Evergreen State College, Hampshire College, Shimer College, Prescott College, Goddard College, World College West (1973-1992), and New College of Florida, among others, including Warren Wilson College located just minutes down the road from where Black Mountain College was located. Bennington College was founded the year before Black Mountain College based on the same philosophy.
For the first eight years, the college rented the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly buildings south of Black Mountain, North Carolina. In 1941, it moved across the valley to its own campus at Lake Eden where it remained until its closing in 1956. The property was later purchased and converted to an ecumenical Christian boys' residential summer camp (Camp Rockmont), which later became a long-time location of the Black Mountain Festival and the Lake Eden Arts Festival. A number of the original structures are still in use as lodgings or administrative facilities.
The college suspended classes by court order in 1957. This was due to debts not sustained by the decreased number of students. In 1962, the school's books were finally closed, with all debts covered.
Among those who taught there in the 1940s and 1950s were:
Josef and Anni Albers,Eric Bentley, Ilya Bolotowsky, Josef Breitenbach, John Cage, Harry Callahan, Mary Callery, Fritz Cohen, Robert Creeley, Merce Cunningham, Edward Dahlberg, Jose De Creeft, Max Dehn, Willem de Kooning, Robert Duncan, Buckminster Fuller, Joseph Fiore, Anna and Natasha Goldowski,Paul Goodman, Mary "Molly" Gregory,Walter Gropius, Trude Guermonprez,Lou Harrison, Wesley Huss, Karen Karnes,Alfred Kazin, Franz Kline, Tony Landreau, Jacob Lawrence, Albert William Levi, Leo Lionni, Richard Lippold, Katherine Litz,Edward Lowinsky, Gretel Lowinsky,Alvin Lustig,Hilda Morley,Robert Motherwell, Beaumont Newhall, Charles Olson, M. C. Richards,Alexander Schawinsky, Ben Shahn, Arthur Siegel, Aaron Siskind, Theodoros Stamos, David Tudor, Robert C. Turner, Jack Tworkov, Peter Voulkos, Emerson Woelffer, Stefan Wolpe, and William R. Wunsch.
Various avant-garde poets (subsequently known as the Black Mountain poets) were drawn to the school through the years, most notably Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov, Jonathan Williams, Ed Dorn and Robert Creeley. Creeley was hired to teach and to edit the Black Mountain Review in 1955, and when he left two years later for San Francisco, he became the link between the Black Mountain poets and the poets of the San Francisco Renaissance.
Black Mountain College is the subject of the museum exhibition Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957, which opened at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston on October 10, 2015. The show was curated by Helen Molesworth with Ruth Erickson. The show exhibited at the Hammer Museum February 21, 2016 to May 15, 2016, which was organized by Anne Ellegood, senior curator, with MacKenzie Stevens, curatorial assistant and January Parkos Arnall, curatorial assistant.