Black Mountain College, founded in 1933 near Asheville, North Carolina, was known as one of the leading progressive schools in the United States. It ceased operations in 1957. Although it lasted only about twenty-three years and enrolled fewer than 1,200 students, Black Mountain College was one of the most fabled experimental institutions in art education and practice, launching a remarkable number of the artists who spearheaded the avant-garde in the America of the 1960s. It boasted an extraordinary curriculum in the visual, literary, and performing arts, and its legacy continues to influence an alternative educational philosophy and practice.
Founded in 1933 by John Andrew Rice, Theodore Dreier and other former faculty of Rollins College, Black Mountain was experimental by nature and committed to an interdisciplinary approach, attracting a faculty which included many of America's leading visual artists, poets, and designers.
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 the first geodesic dome (improvised out of slats in the school's back yard); Merce Cunningham formed his dance company; and John Cage staged his first happening.
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, and as such 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 the University of California, Santa Cruz and Hampshire College to Evergreen State College and Shimer College, among others.
For the first eight years, the college rented the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly buildings south of Black Mountain town. 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 and/or administrative facilities.
Among those who taught there in the 1940s and 1950s were:
Josef and Anni Albers, Eric Bentley, Alfred Kazin, John Cage, Robert Creeley, Merce Cunningham, Max Dehn, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Robert Duncan, Buckminster Fuller, Walter Gropius, Lou Harrison, Franz Kline, Jacob Lawrence, Richard Lippold, Charles Olson, M. C. Richards, Albert William Levi, Ben Shahn, Jack Tworkov, and Robert Motherwell.
Guest lecturers included Albert Einstein, Clement Greenberg, Bernard Rudofsky, Richard Lippold and William Carlos Williams