One class that Velveteen—a woman who manages the kitchen—found time to take was Dailey’s “Natural and Cultural History of the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains,” in which students explore the rich geography and ecology of Appalachia from aesthetic and political perspectives (discussing land management, for example). The course is one example of how BMS aims to be interdisciplinary in ways that go beyond simply mashing up what are traditionally recognized as different forms of art and culture. “A lot of artists have a visual practice, and plant identification is about looking for patterns and similarities,” Dailey told me. “For a lot of artists, their practice is really centered on personal identity—in no way am I discounting that—but it’s really enlightening to see this hugely complex and fascinating world that is outside of you.”
Much has been made about whether or not Black Mountain School can live up to the influence of Black Mountain College. But, just as the college of decades ago and the school of today outlined alternative methods for arts education, perhaps we should find alternative ways to gauge its success. Whether or not the next Rauschenberg walks out of BMS, the project demonstrates that sometimes one needs to step outside of traditional academic settings in order to reinvent them.