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Kate Averett Anderson of Black Mountain College: Birthplace of the American Avant-Garde
Episode 26216th April 2024 • Not Real Art • Crewest Studio
00:00:00 01:03:35

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Despite its short lifespan, Black Mountain College (BMC) left a lasting legacy as an influential pioneering arts institution that challenged traditional academic structures and fostered a unique community of creative thinkers. Founded in 1933 just 20 minutes outside of Asheville, NC, the college emphasized holistic learning and the study of art as central tenets of its educational philosophy. While BMC closed in 1957 due to funding issues, many of its faculty and students were or would become influential in the arts, including Josef and Anni Albers, Elaine and Willem de Kooning, John Cage, Ray Johnson, Robert Motherwell, Robert Rauschenberg, and Cy Twombly. 

In today’s special crossover episode from our friends at ArtsvilleUSA, we welcome Kate Averett Anderson, a writer, curator, staff historian, project coordinator, and board member at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center (BMCM+AC). The museum works to preserve the legacy of educational and artistic innovation of BMC through exhibitions, conservation, educational events, and public programs. “It's not about having a gallery space where you walk in and you go, ‘Here is the history of Black Mountain College from beginning to end,” says Kate. “You can come in and have hands-on experiences with different exhibitions that tell a lot of different stories.”

In this episode, you’ll discover the fascinating connections between BMC and the iconic Bauhaus movement, relive the vibrant atmosphere of the college's legendary parties, and uncover the pivotal role of the BMCM+AC in keeping BMC's spirit alive. From exploring historical parallels to celebrating the creative freedom that BMC championed, this episode offers valuable insight into the birthplace of the American avant-garde. “[Black Mountain College] was a haven for a lot of people,” says Kate. “It was a place where a lot of people had the freedom and ability to explore different elements of their identity.” 

Key Points From This Episode:

  • An introduction to Kate, her career journey, and her role at BMCM+AC.
  • The origin story of BMC (which starts with a scandal, like all good stories do).
  • Insight into founder John A. Rice’s educational philosophy on hands-on learning.
  • Nazis, the final days of the Bauhaus, and how Josef and Anni Albers found BMC.
  • Influential figures that attended BMC and the relationships that developed between them.
  • The legendary parties that were thrown at BMC; such as Jean Verda’s Greek party.
  • An overview of the communal, democratic, non-hierarchical structure at BMC.
  • How a young Robert Rauschenberg was profoundly influenced by his time at BMC.
  • Some of the many famous student revolts at BMC; including one known as The Split.
  • Cultural and political shifts that impacted the college in the late 1950s.
  • The important role that BMCM+AC plays in keeping the BMC legacy alive.
  • How the BMCM+AC differentiates itself from the typical stagnant museum institution.
  • Different stories that BMCM+AC hopes to tell about BMC, not just its history.
  • Looking to the future in the ReVIEWING Black Mountain College conference.
  • Reflecting on the history of identity intersection and racial integration at BMC.
  • A closing anecdote about Harriet Sohmers Zwerling and sexual liberation at BMC.

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