In 1944, Black Mountain College began the first of its famed summer music and arts institutes.
Of the sessions, Martin Duberman in Black Mountain, An Exploration in Community writes, “From that first summer, Jean Charlot had left behind two frescoes on the reinforced concrete pylons under the Studies Building, Roger Sessions, the comment that the Music Institutes had been ‘the most important thing that has ever happened in musical education in America,’ and the students, an income for the college estimated at over three thousand dollars. With those kids of creative, advertising and financial benefits to be reaped, the conclusion was rapidly reached that the institutes should become annual events.”
Duberman notes that the summer institutes, because of the influx of new and temporary people, possessed a different energy than the typical school year. He writes, “in essential ways they constituted an experience contrary to community patterns during the year. The summer people weren’t trying to make a life at Black Mountain; they were trying to put together a concert or an art show…The result was that the summer institutes often were utopias of a sort–places, that is, of good-humored vitality, of agreeable sights and sounds, of people making an effort to be pleasant and cooperative. Not surprisingly, therefore, the summer people were often euphoric about their experiences at Black Mountain and would return home with glowing descriptions of a wondrous site where people at their most talented and nature at its loveliest combined to produce enchanted days.”
In 1948, BMC held arguably its most “enchanted” summer institutes. That summer, Buckminster Fuller first came to teach at BMC and made the first attempt to construct a large geodesic dome. That summer’s performance of Erik Satie’s Le Piége de Méduse (The Ruse of Medusa) was the culmination of John Cage’s summer concert series devoted to Satie’s works. M.C. Richards translated the play, Arthur Penn directed, Buckminster Fuller starred, and Merce Cunningham choreographed and performed the role of the mechanical monkey.
The last summer institutes were held in 1953 and once again featured Merce Cunningham as a dance instructor, Joseph Fiore in painting, Stefan Wolpe in music, and David Weinrib in ceramics.
To learn more about BMC’s summer sessions, peruse the Black Mountain College Project’s BMC history: http://blackmountaincollegeproject.org/History/1940s.htm.
North Carolina Digital Collections also has an impressive digital collection of images, programs, and flyers from BMC’s summer sessions: http://digital.ncdcr.gov/cdm/search/collection/p249901coll44.