|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 was an experimental college founded in 1933 by John Andrew Rice, Theodore Dreier, and several others. Based in Black Mountain, North Carolina, the school was ideologically organized around John Dewey's principles of education, which emphasized holistic learning and the study of art as central to a liberal arts education. Many of the school's faculty and students were or would go on to become highly influential in the arts, including such people as Josef and Anni Albers, Ruth Asawa, Walter Gropius, Robert Motherwell, Cy Twombly, Robert Rauschenberg, Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Buckminster Fuller, Willem and Elaine de Kooning and Allen Ginsberg, among others. Although it was quite notable during its lifetime, the school closed in 1957 after 24 years due to funding issues. The history and legacy of Black Mountain College are preserved and extended by the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center located in downtown Asheville, NC.
Black Mountain was founded in 1933 by John Andrew Rice, Theodore Dreier, Frederick Georgia, and Ralph Lounsbury, who were controversially dismissed as faculty from Rollins College for refusing to sign a loyalty pledge. The school was experimental by nature and committed to an interdisciplinary approach, prioritizing art making as a necessary component of education and attracting a faculty and lecturers that included many of America's leading visual artists, composers, poets, and designers. Operating in a relatively isolated rural location with little budget, Black Mountain depended upon its students and faculty. During the 1930s and 1940s the school flourished, becoming well known as an incubator for artistic talent. Notable events at the school were common, it was here that the first large-scale geodesic dome was made by faculty member Buckminster Fuller and students, where Merce Cunningham formed his dance company, and where John Cage staged his first musical happening.
The school operated using non-hierarchical methodologies that placed students and educators on the same plane. Revolving around 20th century ideals about the value and importance of balancing education, art and cooperative labour, students were required to participate in farm work, construction projects, and kitchen duty as part of their holistic education. The students were involved at all levels of institutional decision-making. They were also left in charge to decide when they were ready to graduate, which notoriously few ever did. There were no course requirements, grades or degrees. Graduates were presented with handcrafted diplomas as purely ceremonial symbols of their achievement. The liberal arts program offered at Black Mountain was broad, and supplemented by art making as a means of cultivating creative thinking within all fields. While Albers led the school, the only two requirements were a course on materials and form taught by Albers and a course on Plato.
In 1933, the Nazis shut down the Bauhaus in Germany, a similarly progressive arts-based educational institution. Many of the school's faculty left Europe for the US, and a number of them settled at Black Mountain, most notably, Josef Albers, who was selected to run the art program and his wife Anni Albers, who taught weaving and textile design.
Adolph Hitler's rise to power and the subsequent persecution taking place in Europe led many artists and intellectuals to flee and resettle in the US, populating Black Mountain College with an influx of both students and faculty.
In addition, the college was operating in the South during the period of legal racial segregation at other colleges and universities in the region. While not immune from racial tensions, the student Alma Stone Williams, an African-American woman, is considered by some to be the first black student to enrol in an all-white institution of higher education in the South during the Jim Crow era.
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). This has been used for years as the site 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.
Black Mountain College closed in 1957, a few years after Albers left to direct the first design department at Yale. The college suspended classes by court order due to debts, being unable to sustain their finances given the greatly decreased number of students. In 1962, the school's books were finally closed, with all debts covered.
The Black Mountain College Museum & Arts Center continues the legacy of Black Mountain College through talks, exhibitions, performances and an annual fall conference that examines the college's legacy. Black Mountain College was 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 later 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. Black Mountain College was featured in Nicholas Sparks' novel, The Longest Ride (2013) and the 2015 movie adaptation of the same name.