Arrowmont, a School for Arts and Crafts
At the 1954 Miami Convention, the motion was made and passed to celebrate Pi Beta Phi's 100th birthday with a project that would strengthen and maintain Pi Phi’s lead in the fraternity world. The Centennial was more than a decade away and a rudimentary fundraising scheme was unveiled.
A committee was established at the 1960 Hot Springs Convention. Its task was to look at possible Centennial projects. After the consideration of 34 ideas, the motion (which ended up on the floor of the 1964 Victoria Convention) was to develop a Pi Beta Phi Arts and Crafts Center on the Fraternity property located in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
This transition into a year-round arts and crafts school seemed like an opportune use of the land the Fraternity owned and the renown of the Summer Arts and Crafts Workshops that had been taking place since 1945. Education of the local children had been gradually taken over by the county and although the property on which the Pi Beta Phi Elementary School was leased from the Fraternity to the county, Pi Beta Phi no longer had a direct hand in the education process.
In 1945, the Summer Craft Workshop was the first such workshop launched in the country. It was not until the mid-1960s that there was a great explosion in the number of craft education classes offered at colleges and universities.
At first, it was called “Arrow in the Smokies.” The goal was for the project to become one of the few craft centers pioneering in the enrichment and promotion of craft design, while preserving the fine aspects of the traditional crafts. Plans were made for a building to house classrooms, administrative areas and gallery spaces. In July, 1968, the name was changed from Arrow in the Smokies to Arrowmont® School of Arts and Crafts.
In October 1969, Fraternity officers laid the cornerstone for the new building. On June 23, 1970, the Emma Harper Turner Building was dedicated. Designed by Hubert Bebb, it was 38,200 square feet and served as a central building for the Arrowmont campus. Former Settlement School buildings were repurposed for housing, studios and administrative purposes. In 1990, a $2.3 million capital campaign was undertaken under the leadership of past Grand President Jean Wirths Scott, Pennsylvania Beta. Included in the campaign was a dormitory, a state-of-the-art wood studio, painting and drawing studios, an expanded children’s program, the artist-in-residence program and a gallery endowment. Hughes Hall provides housing for 52 students. Two wings, the Marianne Reid Wild Wing and the Jean Wirths Scott Wing, honor past Grand Presidents.
An offer to buy Pi Beta Phi's Gatlinburg property in 2008 surprised Fraternity leaders and generated much discussion among its membership about the property and Pi Phi's relationship with Arrowmont. While the offer did not materialize, Grand Council realized the need to appoint a committee to research the issues. The Gatlinburg Study Committee explored the intent, historical evolution and outgrowth of the Settlement School, and provided specific recommendations regarding Pi Beta Phi's future role in the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts and the Gatlinburg community. The Committee’s report was published on the Fraternity’s website in fall 2010 and Fraternity leadership immediately began taking action on the recommendations.
A letter sent in September 2011 from Arrowmont and Pi Beta Phi stated that, “Arrowmont and the Fraternity have been working closely to develop a new relationship honoring our shared history and supporting an independent future for the School.” Arrowmont’s Board of Governors voted to change its legal name from Pi Beta Phi Settlement School Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts to simply, Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. While Pi Phi members could serve as Arrowmont board members, the Arrowmont bylaws no longer required the board to have Fraternity representation. These actions aligned with recommendations made by the Gatlinburg Study Committee.
Another recommendation of the Gatlinburg Study Committee was for the Fraternity to work with a real estate professional in assessing the Fraternity’s land holdings in Gatlinburg. A national property consultant was hired to assist the Fraternity in establishing and implementing an integrated real estate strategy. It was important for the Fraternity to honor its past, while simultaneously balancing the fiduciary responsibility the Fraternity has to its membership. In December 2011, Pi Phi accepted an unsolicited offer on 55 acres of land located east of the Baskins Creek Bypass, known as the Silverbell tract.
In March 2014, Grand President Paula Shepherd, Texas Epsilon, shared in an email a plan that Pi Beta Phi Fraternity, Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, developer Bob Bentz, the Sevier County School District and the City of Gatlinburg were working on. Arrowmont Executive Director Bill May, a talented glass artist, was a Board of Trustees member when Arrowmont was suddenly without an Executive Director. He took on the responsibility on a temporary basis until he was hired during some of Arrowmont’s darkest days. His leadership helped Arrowmont make the choice to purchase the land on which its campus resides. Pi Phi’s land on the Parkway was sold to Bob Bentz (who also purchased the Silverbell property) and the Fraternity gifted a little more than three acres of land on Cherokee Orchard Road to the Sevier County School District for use by the Pi Beta Phi Elementary School.
For more information regarding current Arrowmont news, events and information, please visit www.arrowmont.org.