Institute for the study of Democracy, Education and the Arts
Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center

The Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center’s Institute for the study of Democracy, Education and the Arts aims at investigating and continuing the college’s legacy in experiential education, democratic practice and artistic innovation both separately and in combination. The Institute’s activities focus on educational activities and include internships, visiting fellowships, publications and public programming.

IDE+A is directed by Dr. Brian E. Butler, Thomas Howerton Distinguished Professor of Humanities and Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. Former Chair of the Board of the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, Butler is a scholar in politics, legal philosophy and aesthetics. He has degrees in art (BFA, Otis College of Art and Design and MFA, Claremont Graduate University), philosophy (MA and PhD, Claremont), and law (JD with honors, University of Chicago).

In 1933 John Andrew Rice founded Black Mountain College and the result was a famous experiment in democratic liberal arts education centered on the arts. At Black Mountain College a combination of Rice’s Socratic methodology, the ideas of John Dewey on democracy and the Bauhaus-inspired curriculum of Josef Albers brought legendary results.

Rice started the College with the idea that rigorous Socratic questioning in a classroom setting was an effective way to practice the critical thought skills necessary for effective citizenship. But, as opposed to the great books style of education propounded by experts such as Robert Maynard Hutchins at the University of Chicago, Rice thought that immersion in the traditional literary canon was too one-sided to encompass a full education. Rice’s friend and mentor John Dewey emphasized experiential learning. This idea, though often associated with permissive visions of education attached to satisfaction of student desires, actually was based upon the belief that experiential education centered upon learning skills in the arts brought about great self-discipline and the practice of careful observation – skills essential to effective citizenship. That is, in learning the skills it takes to craft a properly finished artwork the student actually learns to understand and respect both the power of human ingenuity and the limits of human ability. Josef Albers, the first art professor at the school, utilized the curriculum he both learned and then taught previously as a Bauhaus master to design the arts curriculum at Black Mountain College.

At Black Mountain College, the liberal arts education offered was centered upon the formation of effective democratic citizens based upon a rigorous experiential training in critical thought and the arts. IDE+A will bring added focus to the museum’s permanent collection of Black Mountain College art, archival and research materials as well as its contemporary holdings related to this history through the utilization of these materials to understand contemporary and future issues in artistic production and appreciation, liberal arts education and democratic citizenship.