The Black Mountain Institute at UNLV is regarded by many as a cultural gem in the middle of our community.
Founded in 2006, BMI brings in writers and scholars from around the world to talk about their work, and things of interest to our area. It also funds fellows, allowing them to work on the writing.
Last week, the Rogers Foundation announced a $20 million grant to BMI, the largest individual gift in the Institute's history.
Black Mountain Institute Executive Director Carol Harter told KNPR’s State of Nevada that money has been combined with an early gift of $10 million from the foundation and will be used to fund the institute for the next 28 to 30 years.
“With the funding, we can rework and expand our creative writing program which is in the English Department at UNLV,” Harter said.
The institute already has a poetry and fiction track but the gift will allow them to set up a creative nonfiction track and a dramatic writing track.
UNLV will also pitch in with faculty and graduate student positions.
Harter believes that much like what the Smith Center did for the performing arts, BMI has done for literary arts.
“I think people see this also as a major entry into the Las Vegas cultural market as a literary enterprise,” Harter said.
Harter believes the money from the Rogers Foundation will allow the institute to establish itself among some of the other great literary centers in the country like the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.
“I think with this gift from the Rogers Foundation we may be among the best funded literary centers in the country in terms of private funds,” Harter said.
While most people don’t think ‘literary center’ when they think of Las Vegas, Harter said they never struggle to find people interested in coming here. She said some writers come because of curiosity and to see how BMI fits into the Las Vegas they’re more familiar with.
She believes the institute adds to popular entertainment the city is already known for.
“We’re trying to add intellectual entertainment, as it were,” Harter said, “Topping off what the community does so well at the popular level, we’re trying to do at the intellectual level.”
The panels hosted by BMI bring in writers and intellectuals to discuss often difficult issues. Harter said she had had to act as a referee during some very passionate discussions on everything from the origins of Christianity to the Arab/Israel conflict.
“We get a full house most of the time,” she said. “It’s a rich kind of environment when you can have so many people interested at one time or another.”
The institute is also highly involved in translating literary works in other languages into English. They also push students in the program to get international experience. It is actually a requirement for the program.
Harter said that in the end it is what the writers’ produce that matters.
“The writing itself is so important. What is written by student and faculty who are involved in the program,” Harter said.
Carol Harter, executive director, Black Mountain Institute