Black Mountain College Museum & Arts Center, Asheville NC, USA

Mary Holden Thompson: Founder

I grew up ten minutes from Black Mountain, North Carolina, but only learned about Black Mountain College (1933-57) in the 1980’s in Paris, newly married to a French man. On our tiny TV was a documentary about John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and Rauschenberg. Paris museums and galleries featured art by former BMC students and teachers like Kenneth Noland, John Chamberlain, and Cy Twombly. Fascinated, I learned Bauhaus teachers Josef and Anni Albers came to teach art from Germany without a word of English, and that there were black students and teachers in this once highly segregated area known as the Bible Belt (there were separate fountains and restrooms for blacks and whites until the 1970s). At BMC it was the process that counted, not the end result. 

In 1993, when my marriage failed, I moved to Black Mountain, determined to set up a museum in tribute to the College. Early events included a panel discussion, with George Plimpton as moderator, at the Guggenheim Soho in conjunction with John Cage’s Rolywholyover A Circus; an Allen Ginsberg sold-out performance for our fledgling museum’s benefit in Asheville; and a reunion of former BMC students on the original site of the College. Soon we had our own space and organized exhibitions, readings, and concerts. We published a series of catalogues entitled Black Mountain College Dossiers. The Black Mountain College Museum & Arts Center (blackmountaincollege.org) was born and off to a running start. That was thirty years ago and today the museum is thriving!