“After Black Mountain College: Community & Collaboration”

“After Black Mountain College: Community & Collaboration”

Northeastern University

Buckminster Fuller’s architecture class, 1949 summer institute at Black Mountain College. Courtesy of Western Regional Archives, State Archives of NC.
October 24, 2015
Symposium: “After Black Mountain College: Community & Collaboration”

October 30, 2015, 9am–3pm

Northeastern University
Fenway Center
77 St. Stephens St.
Boston, MA 02115

Open to the public—reserve your space here.

Northeastern Center for the Arts presents “After Black Mountain College: Community & Collaboration,” a one-day symposium that examines the influence of Black Mountain College’s (BMC) experimental teaching models on contemporary art. Featuring artists, curators and scholars in four thematic conversations organized by Dr. Gloria Sutton, Northeastern University Art + Design and Dr. Jenni Sorkin, UCSB Art History, the symposium is held in collaboration with the exhibition Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957, curated by Helen Molesworth with Ruth Erickson for the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston.

A small, experimental liberal arts college founded in 1933, Black Mountain College has had a significant impact on the postwar cultural life of the United States. Influenced by the utopian ideals of the progressive education movement, it placed the arts at the center of liberal arts education, believing that in doing so, it could better educate citizens for participation in a democratic society. The college was a dynamic crossroads for refugees from Europe and an emerging generation of American artists.

Profoundly interdisciplinary, BMC offered equal attention to painting, weaving, sculpture, pottery, poetry, music, and dance. Figures such as Anni and Josef Albers, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg, Elaine and Willem de Kooning, Buckminster Fuller, Ruth Asawa, Robert Motherwell, Gwendolyn and Jacob Knight Lawrence, Charles Olson, and Robert Creeley, among many others, taught and studied at BMC. Teaching at Black Mountain combined the craft principles of Germany’s revolutionary Bauhaus school with interdisciplinary inquiry, discussion, and experimentation—ultimately forming the template for American art schools.

Carrie Lambert-Beatty, Anna Craycroft, Eva Diaz, Bree Edwards, Anne Ellegood, Ruth Erickson, Nathan Felde, Renée Green, Dean Elizabeth Hudson, Amanda Reeser Lawrence, Michael Lobel, Ezra Shales, Jenni Sorkin, Carol A. Stakenas, Gloria Sutton, Sara VanDerBeek, James Voorhies, Gregory H. Williams


The symposium is organized around four points of inquiry:

Lost and Found: Translation, Production and Participation
Black Mountain College’s mid-century model of interdisciplinary artistic practice is an important antecedent for the translation, dissemination and remediation of art forms from one discipline to another. How did these new forms of cultural production give rise to artists’ collectives, cooperatives, and models of collaborative work as distinct from studio-driven artmaking?

Experiential Art and the Performance of Life 
Black Mountain College was a key site for the first American interdisciplinary artistic practices that combined visual art, dance, music, choreography, performance, film and theater. While John Cage’s Theatre Piece #1 (1952), widely considered the first avant-garde “happening,” is the best known, it is less well-known that students initiated and ran the Light Sound Movement Workshop from 1949–51. What is the legacy of experience, hierarchy and student teacher relations in artmaking? What are the conditions in contemporary practice that defy, define or encapsulate the difficult nature of collaboration between artists and their communities? How do ephemeral or durational practices in performance complicate the nature of legacy?

Markers of Influence 
Within the historiography of Black Mountain College itself, BMC’s own identity formation is rooted in ideas of artistic influence and legacies of experimentation. While the College had a formidable faculty, some of its most well-known associates taught only briefly, if at all. Many of its students, like any art school, did not necessarily go on to careers as professional artists. What are the stakes of the networks established at a school with a transitory population of students and faculty? How do we conceive of influence? What does it look like beyond an institutional model and what is its relationship to the alternative histories of modernism being written today?

Comparative Pedagogies and Utopia
Teaching and learning are inherently social processes, offering communal possibilities for a contribution greater than the individual. As an intentional community, Black Mountain College was a powerful arbiter of social transformation and foment. Its persistence as a utopian model has circulated through the writings, tellings, and histories produced by various participants of the College. Yet part of its success was dependent upon a receptive, nostalgic, and like-minded cultural milieu. What were the aftereffects of other educational communities both before and after, such as Pond Farm or Stony Point? How does BMC’s promise of utopia measure against other models of lived experience?



Northeastern University presents a symposium on Black Mountain College's influence on arts education

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Northeastern University
October 24, 2015

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