Black Mountain College may have closed its doors in 1957, but the spirit of the school lives on at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. To help you understand the art center, you must first grasp what Black Mountain College was all about. Founded in 1933 by a group of maverick academics who were expelled by another college, Black Mountain College emphasized holistic learning and prioritized the integration of art into a liberal arts education.
Even by today’s standards, the school was extremely progressive. It wasn’t unusual for a course to be held in the middle of the night in an outdoor classroom. But students didn’t just study academics. They did farm work, construction projects and worked in the school’s kitchens. There was no hierarchal order as there was at more mainstream learning institutions; students were considered to be on the same level as professors. And while Black Mountain College offered classes, there were no defined course requirements or grades leading to a diploma. Instead, when students felt they were ready to graduate, the college presented them with a hand-crafted diploma as a symbol of their achievement.
Given its progressive atmosphere and focus on the arts, Black Mountain College attracted artists from around the world, including several who fled Germany after the Nazi rise to power and the closing of the Bauhaus art school in 1933. The college served as a proving ground for many avant-garde artists of the day. For example, the visual artist Buckminster Fuller created one of the world’s first geodesic domes on the campus. After the college closed due to a lack of funding, many professors went on to found modern art academic programs at other colleges and universities.
The college’s campus was located about 20 miles east of downtown Asheville in the small community of Black Mountain. The former buildings are owned by private entities and are therefore not accessible to the public. That makes the only connection to the once-renowned school the museum and art center in Asheville which opened in 1993. Exhibits change a few times per year and usually feature retrospectives of artists who were affiliated with Black Mountain College. For instance, the center has featured a celebration of the Bauhaus school of art and design’s centennial anniversary, an exhibition of photographs by Aaron Siskind who taught at the college in the 1950s and a perspective on Jacob Lawrence’s 1946 paintings done at Black Mountain. The art center is also home to more than 3,000 pieces connected to Black Mountain College.
– If you’re particularly interested in the history of the college, visit the Black Mountain College Research Center which is housed within the art center. You’ll find several short films, oral histories and books related to the school’s legacy.