The Black Mountain College Story: A Hunt Library Happening

Using the entire Hunt Library as a storytelling platform, this dynamic event was conducted by David Silver, Visiting Scholar at NCSU Libraries, to examine one of the most experimental colleges in American history. Silver used the library's dramatic visualization spaces to chronicle the rise and fall of Black Mountain College, founded in 1933 near Asheville, North Carolina. 

Using the entire Hunt Library as a storytelling platform, David Silver, Visiting Scholar at NCSU Libraries, used the library's dramatic visualization spaces to chronicle the rise and fall of Black Mountain College, founded in 1933 near Asheville, North Carolina. 

The Farm at Black Mountain College: A Hunt Library Happening from NCSU Libraries on Vimeo.

How It Got Started

Hunt Library is filled from top to bottom with advanced display technology and innovative spaces.  David Silver (Associate Professor, University of San Francisco) is a passionate scholar, public speaker and innovator.  

Silver’s presence as a Visiting Scholar was the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the capabilities of the Hunt Library’s digital spaces.

What Happened

On August 4, 2014, Silver presented a multimedia experience about one of America’s boldest experiments in higher education using the entire Hunt Library as a storytelling platform: “Black Mountain College: A Hunt Library Happening.” 

Silver used the library’s dramatic visualization spaces to chronicle the rise and fall of Black Mountain College, founded in 1933 near Asheville, North Carolina. During the presentation, participants walked through the building with Silver as he explained the Black Mountain College’s lesser-known but vitally important participants through a discussion of the Black Mountain College farm and work program.

David Silver presenting about Black Mountain College

Although the college remained open for only a short period of time, it attracted such luminaries as Buckminster Fuller, Merce Cunningham, and John Cage who all set the stage for major transformations in educational practices. This dynamic event sparked conversation about the basic premises of how students learn across disciplines and interact with faculty and their learning environments.

Silver led attendees from the iPearl Immersion Theater up to the Visualization Wall—a twenty-five-foot wide canvas comprised of seven separate columns of pixel space integrated into the architecture of the library—the Teaching and Visualization Lab, and finally, the Monumental Stairs and the Commons Wall display.

Throughout the spaces, Silver introduced the origins of the farm at Black Mountain College, including rare photographs of the farm and life there. He walked attendees through a timeline of the college from 1937 (when the college bought the Lake Eden campus) to 1949 (when Josef Albers and a host of other faculty left the college in anger), and highlighted the increasingly desperate last stage of the college.  Local poets participated in the performance by reading excerpts from memoirs of the late college.

The Libraries hosted two performances of the happening: a morning performance at 10:30 a.m. and an evening performance at 7 p.m. Both performances were free and open to the public and concluded with small receptions to encourage further discussion among the participants.

David Silver presenting in the Hunt Library Immersion Theater

How It Went

65 people attended the morning performance and around 90 people came to the evening performance. This attendance exceeded expectations for an intersession event that came together on short notice, indicating significant interest in the subject matter, the Hunt Library technology, and—having developed a loyal fan base in North Carolina—in Silver himself. 

There was also a large faculty contingent. At least 17 professors attended, from several different disciplines, from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as well as from NC State.

Despite the complexity of the events, they were free of any major problems and seem to have been very well-received. The performances anecdotally were said to be “engaging and thoughtful” uses of the digital spaces at the Hunt Library, and as a whole, Silver’s work served as a proof of concept that the building itself can indeed function as a platform for digital storytelling.

David Silver presenting on the stairs at Hunt Library