Unlike the Pi Beta Phi Settlement School, the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts was not Gatlinburg-centric; that is, the school’s function was to promote arts and crafts literacy on a national and international scale -- not necessarily to provide economic and social benefits for the people of Gatlinburg (although Gatlinburg certainly benefited, and continues to benefit, from its presence). And yet, the new school was imbued with the same pioneering educational spirit as its predecessor. For just as Pi Beta Phi once sought to bring education, health care, and economic development to the isolated, underprivileged people of Southern Appalachia, Arrowmont sought to spread arts and crafts literacy into communities -- many of them likewise underprivileged -- across America (and around the world).
Because of its mission, early Arrowmont attracted a diverse student body. A visitor to the school in the 1970s and 1980s might well have worked alongside Pakistani exchange student Shaheda Khanam, whose goal it was to find new and creative uses for jute fiber (and thereby provide her nation with a valuable export commodity); Dennis Jackson, a cerebral palsy sufferer who wished to incorporate arts and crafts into the recreational program of the Los Angeles Crippled Children’s Society; or Sister Pasquina Tamagni, a nun who taught arts and crafts to mentally retarded children at St. Mary’s Training School in Clark, Louisiana. One might also have exchanged ideas with Anne Cheney, an arts and crafts instructor who worked with senior citizens in Houston, Texas; or with Joseph Martin, who presided over recreational programming for troubled teens at the St. Louis ( Missouri) County Juvenile Court. Not all of those who studied at Arrowmont were, however, educators. Among the student body were people from all walks of life -- doctors, lawyers, businesspeople, retired persons, and a host of others -- who wished to tap into their creative potential. There were also aspiring arts and crafts professionals from the University of Tennessee who, thanks to an agreement of understanding between the university and Arrowmont, were able to earn credit towards a BFA or MFA by taking summer courses in Gatlinburg.
In the early years, course offerings at Arrowmont were limited to textile design, craft design, weaving (introductory and advanced), jewelry making, ceramics (including pottery making), school and recreational handicrafts, and enameling. But as the school grew in popularity, and the student population swelled, administrators made every effort to expand the curriculum. During the 1970s and 1980s, Arrowmont introduced a number of new classes such as plastics, macramé, spinning, vegetable dyeing, basketry, woodworking, drawing, painting, photography, paper making, and book arts to its programming schedule. Stitchery, ceramics, stained glass, blacksmithing, quilting, leather and bookbinding were added in the early to mid-1990s, thereby rounding out the curriculum. To ensure that students received the best training possible, administrators hired the very best professional artists available to teach these courses (a policy that continues today). As Arrowmont Board member Martha Connell recently put it, the composition of Arrowmont’s teaching staff over the years has been “mindboggling,” for it has included “many of the movers and shakers in the various craft media.”Beginning in the early 1980s, Arrowmont administrators implemented a series of programs aimed at increasing enrollment and providing assistance to up-and-coming professional artists. In 1981, for example, the school began offering courses designed specifically for senior citizens (as a part of its affiliation with the Elderhostel program) as well as Saturday morning children’s classes. A decade later, the school began its highly selective “Artists in Residence Program” -- a program which granted, and continues to grant, nine to eleven months of studio space to five worthy artists, with the stipulation being that they assist the Arrowmont staff with projects, courses, and administrative tasks.