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Franklin Furnace Archive, Inc. is an arts organization based in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, New York that serves to preserve and encourage the production of avant-garde art, particularly forms such as performance art that are under-represented by arts institutions due to their ephemeral nature or politically unpopular content.
Founded by Martha Wilson in 1976 as an archive for artist books and variable media, Franklin Furnace gathered the largest collection of artist books in the United States before 1993 when most of the collection was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art. Franklin Furnace was one of the first organizations to support and advocate for artist books, which today are still under-recognized and under-valued, especially by larger art and culture institutions.
Franklin Furnace was on the front lines during the “culture wars” of the 1980s and '90s. In 1984, the Morality Action Committee claimed that 500 children per day were exposed to pornography in the Carnival Knowledge show; Franklin Furnace’s 1992-93 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) program grant was rescinded by the National Council on the Arts; and in 1996, the Christian Action Network carried a coffin up the steps of the Capitol to call for the death of Franklin Furnace and the NEA.
Although today it is a “virtual institution,” using its website franklinfurnace.org as its public face, in the 1970s and '80s Franklin Furnace held performances, installations, and exhibits in its performance space on Franklin Street in Lower Manhattan. In 1990, the Franklin Street performance space was closed down, and Franklin Furnace moved to the Financial District before settling into its current headquarters at 80 Hanson Place in Brooklyn, New York in 2004.
Every year, Franklin Furnace awards grants of $2000–10,000 to local, national, and international contemporary artists selected by a rotating panel of artists. In 1985, Franklin Furnace started the Fund for Performance Art with the support of the Jerome Foundation. In the spring of 2008, the fund was expanded to include the internet as an art medium and venue. Today the grants most often support performance art as well as “variable media,” artist books, installation pieces, and electronic media. In June 2009 the peer review panel awarded $64,000 to eleven artists selected from among 424 proposals.
Since 1985, Franklin Furnace places contemporary working artists to teach art in public schools. After a ten-year partnership with P.S. 52 in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, Franklin Furnace currently collaborates with P.S. 20, the Clinton Hill Elementary School in Brooklyn.
After Franklin Furnace’s collection of 13,500 artist books was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art, the organization reinvented itself as a “virtual institution” focused on its online resources. With a National Endowment for the Humanities grant awarded in 2006, Franklin Furnace digitized and published online its event records from its first decade. With the help of this grant, Franklin Furnace began collaboration with ARTstor in order to make its event records available to the colleges and universities who use ARTstor’s database as an educational resource. In August 2010, Franklin Furnace received a second grant from the NEH, matched by the Booth Ferris Foundation, to digitize and publish its second decade of event records on its website.