March 3, 2024

More on FULLY AWAKE presented by Richard Connolly and Mass Media: A Cultural History

Mass Media: A Cultural History is an inter-disciplinary social science and humanities course that emphasizes critical thinking in presenting the social and historical effects of mass media. The course begins in the 19th century, when print media shaped and defined our culture; it concludes in the 21st century, with the media convergence of print, electronic and digital multimedia.

Created by Richard Connolly for SUNY Purchase during the period between 2004 and 2008, Mass Media: A Cultural History focuses on local and regional history as a way of understanding the history of mass media. Through personal history, autobiography and memoir, the course connects our lives in Rockland County and the Hudson Valley region to the evolving cultural history of mass media and social media in America.

As part of the course this semester, Connolly will focus on Black Mountain College (1933 – 1957), an influential experiment in education that inspired and shaped twentieth century American art. Connolly’s interest in Black Mountain began more than 50 years ago, when he was a high school student. That early interest started him on a journey that is rooted in the interdisciplinary teaching and learning at Black Mountain College.

On Wednesday evening, March 12—as one of his presentations for SUNY Purchase at Rockland students—Connolly will share his personal experiences about Black Mountain with Rivertown. Connolly’s experiences include friendships with former Black Mountain faculty and students, work at progressive educational institutions, interdisciplinary production and publishing work and university teaching that focuses on Black Mountain College’s educational values.

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For a short time in the middle of the twentieth century a small town in North Carolina became a hub of American cultural production. The town was Black Mountain and the reason was Black Mountain College. Founded in 1933, the school was a reaction to the more traditional schools of the time. At its core was the assumption that a strong liberal and fine arts education must happen simultaneously inside and outside the classroom. Combining communal living with an informal class structure, Black Mountain created an environment conducive to the interdisciplinary work that was to revolutionize the arts and sciences of its time.

Among Black Mountain’s first professors were the artists Josef and Anni Albers, who had fled Nazi Germany after the closing of the Bauhaus. It was their progressive work in painting and textiles that first attracted students from around the country. Once there, however, students and faculty alike realized that Black Mountain College was one of the few schools sincerely dedicated to educational and artistic experimentation. By the forties, Black Mountain’s faculty included some of the greatest artists and thinkers of its time: Walter Gropius, Jacob Lawrence, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, John Cage, Alfred Kazin, Merce Cunningham, and Paul Goodman. Students found themselves at the locus of such wide-ranging innovations as Buckminster Fuller’s Geodesic Dome, Charles Olson’s Projective Verse, and some of the first performance art in the United States.


By the late 40s, word of what was happening in North Carolina had started to spread throughout the country. With a Board of Directors that included William Carlos Williams and Albert Einstein and impressive programs in poetry and photography, Black Mountain had become the ideal of American experimental education. Its concentration on cross-genre arts education would influence the programs of many major American institutions.

In 1953, as many of the students and faculty left for San Francisco and New York, those still at Black Mountain saw the shift in interest and knew the school had run its course. Black Mountain had existed on its own terms, and on its own terms had succeeded in expanding the possibilities of American education. Realizing that they had essentially achieved their goals, they closed their doors forever. Black Mountain’s legacy continued however, with former students such as painter Robert Rauschenberg, publisher Jonathan Williams, and writer Michael Rumaker bringing the revolutionary spirit of their alma mater to the forefront of a number of other cultural movements and institutions.

Fully Awake: Black Mountain College is a 2008 documentary film by Cathryn Davis Zommer and Neeley House that explores the college’s progressive pedagogy and radical approach to arts education. Highly democratic and faculty- owned, the school promoted practical responsibilities and the creative arts as equally important components to intellectual development.

Fully Awake explores how the confluence of this diverse community came together to create a unique educational model. Through narration, archival photography, and interviews with students, teachers, historians, and current artists, Fully Awake investigates the development of this very special place – the site of Buckminster Fuller’s first geodesic dome, John Cage’s first ‘happening’, and the Black Mountain Review – and how its collaborative curriculum inspired innovations that would change the very definition of “art.”

As presented in Fully Awake, the legacy of Black Mountain College points to a progressive pedagogical model that can continue to inspire students today.

By focusing on Fully Awake in his presentation for SUNY Purchase students and for the Rivertown film community, Richard Connolly will share his ideas about lifelong learning and teaching in the context of the cultural history of media in America.

Richard Connolly (born 12 April 1945 in Englewood, New Jersey) is a writer, teacher, publisher and producer and the founder of Circumstantial Productions in Nyack.

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