A place for ideas: BMCM+AC opens a second location

ACTIVE PARTICIPATION: Jeff Arnal, executive director of Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center sees the new location at 69 Broadway as a place for artists and scholars to gather and converse. "You have to go out into the world and see other work, but you also have to investigate what's happened before. All of this is surrounding a dialogue," he says. Photo by Thomas Calder

“It’s a flexible space,” says Alice Sebrell, program director at Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. She points toward a wall in the middle of BMCM+AC’s newest addition at 69 Broadway. “Randy [Shull] built it on casters. We can move it up front as a big title wall or it can be a partition wall. It’s just a nice feature. We don’t have that flexibility across the street.”

Currently, the organization is distinguishing its two spaces numerically. Both are located on Broadway. The original BMCM+AC, founded in 1993 by Mary Holden, is referred to as 56. The new venue, next door to The Center for Craft, Creativity & Design on the other side of the street, is 69. The latter opened its doors last month.

Both spaces aim to educate the public on the history of Black Mountain College, a campus founded by John A. Rice in 1933 that attracted the likes of Cy Twombly, Robert Rauschenberg and Elaine de Kooning. Owned and operated by its faculty until it closed in 1957, its legacy continues to impact and intrigue artists, scholars and tourists alike. “Just yesterday, there was a journalist from Germany who came by,” says Sebrell. “She’s touring all of North Carolina, but her priority was Black Mountain College.”

The grand opening of the second BMCM+AC building featured the exhibit Wide Open: Architecture + Design at Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. The exhibition shows artist and builder Shull’s process of creating the new space at 69 Broadway. In addition to designing the layout for the new BMCM+AC space, Shull was in charge of the renovations for the original BMCM+AC building. Both projects were funded by the Windgate Charitable Foundation.

Shull’s project also highlights a component of the new space that BMCM+AC wants to continue to emphasize — its interest in current and future projects that fall under the umbrella of Black Mountain College’s influence. “We’re never stuck in the past,” says Sebrell, adding that the current research done on Black Mountain College carries its legacy forward.

History remains a component of the new venue. The additional space allows the organization to present more from its collection, such as original paintings, sculptures and other primary materials related to the former college. However, even with the added square footage, much of the collection remains in storage. “Our long-term goal is to have a digital catalog,” says Jeff Arnal, executive director of BMCM+AC, “so that it’s more available and becomes active storage.”

Similar to the first BMCM+AC space, the new location offers a library and study room. Reference material at the 69 Broadway building comes courtesy of Ronald R. Janssen, retired professor emeritus of writing studies and composition at Hofstra University. “Janssen came to our [annual] conference for several years,” says Sebrell. “He’s particularly interested in the poets and writers associated with Black Mountain College.”

Arnal sees the library as a resource unlike any other in Asheville. “You can come here and have access to the original print editions of books,” he says. He’s hopeful such a feature will attract artists, scholars and thinkers to visit the new location not merely to view the latest exhibit, but to take advantage of the unique space. “We want people to know this is a place to gather,” he says. “A place to think and to study and to exchange ideas. That’s part of what a study center is about. And we welcome folks to come and do that.”

Preconceptions are a major obstacle to overcome. Arnal points out that so often galleries, museums and libraries can carry with them a closed-door feel. There are also a variety of components that give pause. “People aren’t sure if they might have to buy something, or if there might be a heavy ticket price,” Arnal says. Both BMCM+AC locations are donation-based. Membership is available and new members are always welcome, but it is not a requirement to use the space.

“We are in the business of serving the community,” Arnal says. “That’s part of this expansion. We’re trying to thoughtfully grow and to grow deep. We want to really look around us and ask, ‘Who are our neighbors? Who are our friends? Who are the like-minded folks?’ Because there are plenty. Folks come from all over the world, but we also need folks from West Asheville and Weaverville and Hendersonville to come in. … This is the source, the faucet for many ideas.”

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist. For his weekly #tuesdayhistory tidbits on Asheville, follow him on Instagram @tcalder.

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