Listen on BBC radio 4: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08dnjh0
British playwright, actor Kwame Kwei-Armah now artistic director of Center Stage, the state theatre of Maryland, in Baltimore, uncovers the artistic laboratory that was Black Mountain College in North Carolina (1933 – 1957). In this faculty-owned college that built itself, students and teachers included John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, Merce Cunningham, Josef Albers, Willem de Kooning and Buckminster Fuller. It was unconventional, democratic, collaborative and un-bureaucratic. Students attended meetings that had to reach a consensus and students and teachers worked on the property and farmed. Always short of funds, this was a dynamic community that believed creating art was central to the development of a good citizen.
Kwame discovered Black Mountain because he admires the work of the black artist Jacob Lawrence, who taught at Black Mountain in the summer of 1947. Lawrence said the experience left him with more intellectual insight into the making of art. As Kwame guides a group of production interns at his Baltimore theatre, he shares his discoveries about this remote experimental college in the Blue Ridge Mountains. He’s especially fascinated by the risks they took to welcome black students and faculty, as early as 1944, in the segregated South.
The interns consider what learning at Black Mountain would have been like. There was poverty and isolation but no grades, you didn’t have to graduate, you had constant access to professors and the opportunity to perform almost every night. Together with some Baltimore actors, they re-imagine the first ever Happening that John Cage devised, one hot June night in the dining room in 1952.
Helped by curators, archivists and alumni, Kwame ponders the legacy of this extraordinary, unique educational establishment and artists colony.
Actors: John Lescault
Brandon Rashad Butts
Producer Judith Kampfner.
Photo: Hammer Museum.