Lake Eden arts event is set for March 25

Tom Flynn
Special to The Black Mountain News

So John Cage and pianist David Tudor had this idea at lunch at Black Mountain College. They’d have an art event there on campus.

There would be no script, they decided during that discussion in 1952. Cage, a composer, was really interested in time, so he selected people to participate and gave each a time signature within which they would do whatever they wanted to do during his composition “Theatre Piece No. 1.”

The result was what critics have said was a multimedia “happening,” a compelling mix of artwork, music, performance art, poetry and dance.

On March 25, the Asheville-based Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center honors those seminal “happenings” by staging its seventh annual {Re}Happening from 3-10 p.m. at Camp Rockmont on Lake Eden Road in Black Mountain. There will be food trucks at this family friendly event.

Those first “happenings” at the short-lived, experimental art college (1933-1957) were challenging-to-define, yet readily experienced expressions of art. Their memory is made vibrant again each year by the {Re}Happenings. To many art enthusiasts, the events take place on hallowed ground, Camp Rockmont being the former home of Black Mountain College.

{Re}Happening is “part art event, part fundraiser, and part community instigator,” the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center states, one that provides “a platform for contemporary artists to share their response to the vital legacy by returning to its original site in the present day.”

A thin thread ties the first happening with its contemporary iterations and can be experienced at “Being to See: The Photographers of Black Mountain College,” an exhibition at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center (56 and 69 Broadway St., Asheville).

One of the pieces displayed is “Beauty and the Beast,” a photograph that features Francine du Plessix Gray and poet Joel Oppenhiemer (as the comically ominous “beast”). Gray was the only chronicler of the 1952 Happening.

“She went back to her room after it happened and wrote in her diary,” said Alice Sebrell, program director at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts.

Other than that entry, no formal documentation of the first Happening exists.

Organizers don’t try to recreate the Happenings. Though the center is committed to the history and legacy of Black Mountain College, it consistently asks itself how the college’s ethos might be practiced today, the center’s executive director, Jeff Arnal, said. One answer is the {Re}Happening.

Arnal sees the event as an opportunity to indulge the spirit of adventure that area residents have, even if they don’t typically experience that enthusiasm through art.

“You’re going to see something that maybe you would not normally be able to see. So it fits with this adventurous spirit of just trying something on,” Arnal said.

The event is accessible and fun, Sebrell said. “There’s nothing for anybody to feel any sense of trepidation about,” she said. “It’s not like it’s going to be something that you’re not going to understand and feel threatened by.”

“Humor was a part of the way Cage thought of (the first Happening),”Arnal said. “It was OK if you laughed, or if you didn’t get it, or if it wasn’t your cup of tea. That’s all right. He wasn’t trying to be prescriptive as far as ‘this is high art.’”

“We’ve been putting the word out widely that we’re doing this, but we love that our local community shows up,” he said. Local residents “are already seeing the mountains and the beauty of this place every day,” he said. “How do you bring it to this event and maybe see it through a different lens?”

A Happening reimagined

What: {Re}Happening

When: 3-10 p.m. March 25

Where: Camp Rockmont, Black Mountain

Cost: $20 advance, $25 gate, $15 youth, free up to age 9

Parking: $10 ($5 roundtrip shuttle from Asheville), 828-350-8484