Black Mountain Songs performed by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus (photo by Michael Oppenheim)

This year’s ReVIEWING, our 9th annual International Conference on Black Mountain College, marked a pivotal point in BMCM+AC’s history. With two keynote presentations, the contributions of over 60 scholars, curators, and artists from around the world, the Southeast Premiere of Black Mountain Songs at Diana Wortham Theatre, and the opening of our inaugural ACTIVE ARCHIVE exhibition (Martha McDonald, Process + Performance) it is safe to say that this ReVIEWING weekend was like nothing our museum has tackled before. With so many moving parts and memorable moments, we’d love to share a brief overview and acknowledge everyone who contributed to our mission to preserve the history and continue the legacy of Black Mountain College!

Mel Chin gives keynote address at ReVIEWING 9 (photo by Michael Oppenheim)

We were thrilled to be able to feature two keynote presentations at this year’s conference, covering the realms of influence of Black Mountain College in contemporary conceptual, visual, and performing arts. Mel Chin, the internationally acclaimed conceptual artist kicked off ReVIEWING with a keynote address where he spoke about recent projects in Philadelphia and New Orleans and gave us a preview of his upcoming installation in Manhattan’s  Times Square.

Saturday, the creative team behind Black Mountain Songs formed a panel to discuss the inception of this interdisciplinary performance and its inspiration. Richard Reed Parry (of Arcade Fire, amongst many other projects) co-curated the performance with Bryce Dessner of the National and spoke to the duo’s experience forming this multi-layered work commissioned by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, led by Founder and Artistic Director Dianne Berkun Menaker.

Gus Solomons jr performs for “Black Mountain Songs” (photo by Michael Oppenheim)

In addition to Berkun Menaker and Parry, this panel included Caroline Shaw (Composer and Pulitzer Prize winner), Maureen Towey (Director for such music powerhouses as tUne-YaRdS and Arcade Fire), Gus Solomons jr (Dancer for the Merce Cunningham Company at the height of their collaborations with Cage and Rauschenberg), and Grant McDonald (Video and Projection Designer who brought Matt Wolf’s film to life.)

Moderated by Towey, this panel discussed each person’s contributions to Black Mountain Songs as well as how their extensive research into Black Mountain College has influenced their own creative process. They were joined by three members of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus who have been with this piece since its inception three years ago. The singers offered their perspective on how the work has grown and the collaborative experience of working with composers commissioned to create original performances for BYC. 

Martha McDonald performs Music for Modernist Shapes: Reimagining Spectodrama (photo by Michael Oppenheim)

Friday Night saw the opening of ACTIVE ARCHIVE: Martha McDonald, Process + Performance, a landmark exhibition that is the first in a stream of programs to incorporate contemporary artist residencies into the exhibitions at BMCM+AC. Martha McDonald, an interdisciplinary artist from Philadelphia set a high bar as our first artist and curator in residence. During her research on Black Mountain College, she was fascinated by the influence of the Bauhaus on the performing arts at the college. From this entry point, notably a fascination with the costume and set design of Xanti Schawinsky, McDonald curated an exhibition based upon the principles of Process and Performance at the college. Her exhibition features work from BMC faculty as well as students that speaks to how color theory and materiality were central to the development of a process of making as well as how all these aspects informed the performing arts at the college. In keeping with her own process, McDonald created a performance with instrumentalist Laura Baird based upon her research, Music for Modernist Shapes: Reimagining Spectodrama, which they previewed at the reception. McDonald’s exhibition produced an exemplary catalogue (with the steadfast help of Susan Rhew and Michael Oppenheim) and will run through December 30, 2017.

Brooklyn Youth Chorus performs Spaceship Earth by Richard Reed Parry from Black Mountain Songs (photo by Michael Oppenheim)

Black Mountain Songs performed by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus (photo by Michael Oppenheim)

Both Friday and Saturday night featured performances of Black Mountain Songs at the Diana Wortham Theatre. To bring this piece, inspired by BMC, back home to Asheville was a powerful experience. The Brooklyn Youth Chorus sang in minimal surroundings which allowed for archival footage compiled by filmmaker Matt Wolf to set the stage. Projected onto a screen that mirrored a constellation form by Josef Albers, the film transported audiences from the porch of the Blue Ridge Assembly to Charles Olson’s memories of Gloucester, then the field at Lake Eden where Buckminster Fuller first attempted a large-scale geodesic dome. Each song drew inspiration from quotes or poetry from those at the college, and narration from Fielding Dawson’s memoir punctuated the performance. Black Mountain Songs is truly a transformational work, through and about the passage of time and the impermanence of utopias such as Black Mountain College. We were honored to be able to host the Brooklyn Youth Chorus and the dynamic team who created this piece and are so grateful to our partnership with UNC Asheville who, with a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, have helped us launch our Performance Initiative. While Black Mountain Songs was a big step for us, in scale and in content, we have more in store with Dance Heginbotham’s collaboration with author/illustrator Maira Kalman, Principles of Uncertainty coming to Diana Wortham Theatre this March! 

Visiting the Lake Eden Campus with Richard Reed Parry, Caroline Shaw and Dianne Berkun Menaker

ReVIEWING 9 ended on a high note with our tour of the historic Lake Eden campus, this time joined by conference attendees, presenters, and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. Tours were led by Alice Sebrell and Julie Thomson visiting the Studies Building, the Farm, the Lodges, and finally the Dining Hall. In a moment of synchronicity that seems to always accompany Black Mountain College, the Brooklyn Youth Chorus gave one final impromptu performance in the Dining Hall, the same space where in 1952 John Cage and friends performed Theatre Piece No. 1, often cited as the first Happening. Composer Caroline Shaw will be returning this March for our 8th Annual {Re}HAPPENING, activating the Dining Hall once again by performing with her vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth!

It is impossible to adequately thank everyone who made this weekend what it was, but we do have some sponsors, supporters, and friends we would like to make special mention of! As always, we are so grateful to UNC Asheville for not only supporting our Performance Initiative through a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation but also for their continued support of ReVIEWING, hosting us at the Reuter Center and providing a world class lunch for our attendees and presenters. We would also like to thank our sponsors for this year’s conference: ALOFT Hotel for a generous donation as well as for provided accommodations for the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, and to Wedge Brewing, Mellow Mushroom, Buxton Hall BBQ, Chai Pani, Short Street Cakes, and French Broad Chocolate Lounge for providing incredible refreshments at our opening reception, and finally to Pink Dog Creative and Arbitrary Forms Studios for their continued support! Lastly, we want to thank our Foundation sponsors: Henry Luce Foundation, Windgate Charitable Foundation, North Carolina Arts Council, UNC Asheville Howerton Distinguished Professor in the Humanities, UNC Asheville Office of the Provost, and the Osher Center for Lifelong Learning.

We can’t wait to see you next year when we promise that we will keep the ball rolling, keep your eyes on this space for some exciting news on what ReVIEWING 10 will bring! In the meantime, take a look back with photos by Michael Oppenheim Photography and Ken Fitch: 


  • Black Mountain Songs performed by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus at Diana Wortham Theatre (photo by Michael Oppenheim)