About the Black Mountain College Semester

North Carolina Humanities CouncilWelcome to the digital projects homepage of the Black Mountain College Semester (BMCS) at Appalachian State University. Thanks to matching support from the North Carolina Humanities Council, the BMCS includes exhibitions and speakers at three museums, a special double issue on Black Mountain College in Appalachian Journal, educator workshops to bring the story of Black Mountain College into North Carolina schools, performance events, and geodesic dome-building workshops. The BMCS digital projects website is created by the Center for Appalachian Studies in partnership with the W.L. Eury Appalachian Collection,  the Turchin Center for Visual Arts, Belk Library and Information Commons, the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Fine and Applied Arts, and the Reich College of Education. Our site will be updated over 2018 to include a timeline content, K-12 resources, and scholarly materials. 

Black Mountain College, which operated between 1933 and 1957 in Buncombe County, North Carolina, is widely regarded as an experiment in educational democracy initiated by founder John Andrew Rice. For Rice's faculty, experimentation meant challenging many of the era’s prevailing assumptions about higher education. For example, the Rector, or college leader, was elected, as was the governing Board of Fellows, which came from the faculty ranks. For students, it meant being exposed to a wide range of academic perspectives, embracing diverse viewpoints and experiences, and collaborating in the physical operations of the college. Education was individual, collective, and focused on experience. Intellectual growth and social responsibility were deemed inseparable components of student learning.

The arts held a central role in the college curriculum and were the means of instilling in the community the shared values of creativity, independence, discipline, and emotional maturity. The experiment clearly worked: a litany of faculty, students, and visitors at Black Mountain made significant contributions to the visual arts, writing, theater, music, dance, design, and beyond. Among this group are Anni Albers, Josef Albers, Ruth Asawa, John Cage, Jean Charlot, Merce Cunningham, Fielding Dawson, John Dewey, Willem de Kooning, Buckminster Fuller, Zora Neale Hurston, Karen Karnes, Jacob Lawrence, Henry Miller, Robert Motherwell, Charles Olson, M. C. Richards, Robert Rauschenburg, Aaron Siskind, and Cy Twombly.

Several exhibitions, publications, documentary films, and digital media projects have examined and celebrated Black Mountain College since its closure. The BMCS aims to add to this work in two ways. First, and in the spirit of experiential learning espoused at Black Mountain, the BMCS is as much a process as an event. Several aspects of the project are built around creative partnerships among students, faculty, and administrators at Appalachian State University and between the University and off-campus contributors. Exhibitions at the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum (Nov. 2017-April 2018), the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts (Jan.-June 2018), and the Swannanoa Valley Museum (July-Dec. 2018) will celebrate the creative legacies of Black Mountain College. Beginning January 2018, students will apply insights from Black Mountain College in their classrooms and co-develop the project’s web resources through a faculty fellowship program. Other student-faculty groups will participate in geodesic dome-building workshops around campus. A speaker series will invite public discussion about the college legacy in three western North Carolina locations. The W.L. Eury Appalachian Collection, which is the repository of the John Andrew Rice Papers, will display a collection of rare books by college faculty and alumni in Belk Library and Information Commons. The project’s website will extend the BMCS into regional museums, public scholarship, and K-12 education.

Second, the BMCS seeks to bring the story of Black Mountain College into conversation with the story of Appalachia, particularly that of western North Carolina, to better appreciate the role of “place” in history of the college. Whereas Black Mountain College is considered a site of innovation in America between 1933 and 1957, the surrounding Appalachian Mountains have often been characterized as culturally backward and static during the same period. However, Appalachia was more than a backdrop of intellectual productivity at Black Mountain; it was also a complex space of social, economic, and environmental transformation. The BMCS website and select articles in Appalachian Journal help to put the story of Black Mountain College in the contexts of regional, national, and global change.

Visit the Black Mountain College site created by the College of Arts and Sciences for information on events, project background, and more.