Letter from Martha Wilson

Dear Franklin Furnace Aficionado,

When there's trouble, take the long view.

This was not always my first instinct; after graduating from college during the Vietnam War, my boyfriend and I left the U.S. for Canada. In 1976, after moving back, I started Franklin Furnace—and although I was raised as a Quaker to never throw anything away, I focused on the immediate tasks at hand. It was my Board of Directors who insisted Franklin Furnace hire an archivist, someone with a commitment to preservation and access. That was Matt Hogan, who starting in 1983 began cataloging Franklin Furnace's artists' book collection; and organized our institutional archives documenting our installation, exhibition, and performance art programs.

In the early days, funders sought us out to let us know that Franklin Furnace was doing important work, and told us we could apply for support. We were the darlings of the artworld, inventing postmodernism before the term came to be. But during the 80s, avant-garde artists were no longer encouraged to experiment wildly and freely. Gradually, the administration of Ronald Reagan and conservative religious groups promulgated the idea that artists were a virus eating away at the health of the body politic. In 1984, Franklin Furnace exhibited Carnival Knowledge, curated by nine women artists and activists, who asked if there could be such a thing as "feminist pornography," or pornography which didn't denigrate women or children. After Carnival Knowledge closed at the end of January, the Morality Action Committee swung into action, writing postcards to elected officials and letters to Franklin Furnace's corporate and foundation supporters, claiming we had shown pornography to 500 children per day (not true).

The Culture Wars were fought over the propriety of sexuality as a subject of contemporary art; and the notion that no tax dollars should be used to support "obscene art." After a lawsuit brought by Karen Finley, John Fleck, Holly Hughes and Tim Miller, ("The NEA 4"), made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the arts community lost as the Court determined that "community standards of decency" supersede artists' First Amendment right to free expression.

When the Internet became widely accessible in the late 1990s, the ground the Culture Wars were fought on shifted: artists started looking at surveillance as a locus of threat. At the same time, we were asking ourselves where freedom of expression was going to be possible in the future, and decided that cyberspace was, for the time being, that free zone. Franklin Furnace "went virtual" on February 1 1997, taking as its public face the website www.franklinfurnace.org

Now it is 20 years later. With the support of Members like you, who recognize the crucial nature of our work; the National Endowment for the Humanities; and private foundations, Franklin Furnace has digitized its first 20 years of slides, photographs, press releases, announcement cards, and posters. Additionally, in 2006 we became the first "alternative space" invited to contribute these digital materials to Artstor, the visual arts database used by over 1,800 colleges and universities worldwide. Because video is now considered to be pedagogically imperative, in 2013 Franklin Furnace also contributed 50 digitized videotapes documenting performance art to Artstor. Franklin Furnace also makes digitized video freely available to the public through Vimeo; at present, nearly 200 videos may be accessed from www.vimeo.com/franklinfurnace. Also, this season, our student interns will publish blog posts at www.franklinfurnacearchive.blogspot.com to attract a diverse and worldwide audience of new viewers to our online video collection. Franklin Furnace is thus doing its part to preserve the history of contemporary avant-garde art and to make it accessible to museums, scholars and regular folk the world over.

Won't you help Franklin Furnace continue its vital work by joining The Long View Membership Campaign 2017-18. As our federal arts agencies are again under threat, your support is more critical than ever. With your help, we will continue supporting emerging artists and the presentation of their concerns, while preserving the record of their work so future generations may discover the indispensable art of our time.

 

Very truly yours,

Martha Wilson
Founding Director