The Hows of Deinstitutionalization
This essay is the second of a two part series titled: "The
Whys and How of Deinstitutionalization", concerning Franklin
Furnace Archive. The first part on the whys is presented by Martha
Wilson, Founder and Director of Franklin Furnace. The hows are
explored by myself, Michael Katchen, archivist of Franklin Furnace.
My paper starts with a description of the circumstances surrounding
Franklin Furnace beginning in January 1997, moving to the present,
and including plans for the future. There is a brief explanation
of what materials constitute our archives and a history of my involvement
with the organization. The bulk of the essay concerns two main topics
of deinstitutionalization. The most important is choosing, cataloging,
and digitally presenting material from our archives, with special
emphasis on digital cataloging. Next in importance is downsizing
office space and archive storage. These two big issues became inseparable
and intertwined. The main plot is constantly interrupted by related
sub-plots. It resembles the formula of old Star Trek episodes except
there is no way to guess the outcome.
This is the tale of a small not-for profit organization that has
survived for 22 years and counting. It's about getting a grant to
do something specific, and how that gets done, perhaps in slightly
altered, but usually improved form, plus a whole lot more. In this
case the whole lot more was our physical move to downsize.
The recent saga begins with a phone call from Martha Wilson sometime
late in 1996 when she asks if I am interested in working on an 18-month
project. My answer is, of course, yes. I've worked with Martha and
the Franklin Furnace for most of my adult life since 1980, becoming
accustomed to an employment that follows the ebb and flow cycle
of grant monies.
The grant that employs me is to be implemented in 3 phases. Usually
you begin with phase 1. Fortunately, we did just that. Phase 1 required
me to define and catalog the archives. In January 1997 I began wading
through boxes and file cabinets full of stuff, archival stuff. After
several months of sorting, the material basically defines itself.
Franklin Furnace always prefers to maintain a light touch, like
shepherds gently coaxing material into appropriate categories. We
came up with 6 categories and several sub-categories.
Once everything is categorized it became apparent that the Program
category would be most interesting to the general public. The program
files contain written and pictoral documentation of all our events
for the last 20 years. Using college interns, Franklin Furnace undertakes
a pilot project to further investigate the category of Artist Files.
We complete 82 records. The format of these records provide us with
the architecture for our present format.
Meanwhile Franklin Furnace has a web site up and running since
October 1996. Press articles are appearing about our transformation
into an electronic museum. The pressure is on. However, at about
this time the New York City Mayoral race is heating up and our webmaster,
drag king Murray Hill, is running for office. Due to the rigors
of her campaign schedule, our web site is not updated for months.
We need professional help to come up with some ideas. So we decide
to attend the Museum Computer Conference in Saint Louis, October,
The conference in St. Louis proves to be beneficial. Some of the
highpoints include: meeting with Rick Rinehart of the Berkeley Art
Museum, and agreeing to join CIAO (Conceptual and Intermedia Arts
Online), and meeting with Steve Deitz of the Walker Museum who is
now our database consultant. The ideas and opinions available at
the many workshops and sessions offer an incredible variety of ways
to interpret and conceptualize our cataloging procedures.
After a few weeks of digesting the St. Louis experience, I attend
one more conference titled "School for Scanning", offered
by the Northeast Document Conservation Center. This allows ideas
that are stirring around in my head to get out into the world, obtain
feedback, and gel into a usable substance for the archive. For example:
I realize that although digitization is not the best method for
preservation, it is the best method for making our archive available
to the widest possible audience.
In December, Martha and I meet with our consultant, Steve Dietz
to discuss software and cataloging structure. We decide to use a
custom configuration of the PC version of File Maker Pro software.
We must plan our hardware purchases. During January, Franklin Furnace
receives shipment of computer hardware, and a test version of our
It's now February and we are one month past our agreed upon move
out date. Cataloging is temporarily halted while we look for and
find a new home. Back to Wall Street. We get another month extension
on our rent. For the entire month all our energy goes into moving
from a 5000 square foot space into 500 square feet. February was
also the month of our first performance cybercasts.
March 1998 finds the staff of Franklin Furnace at 45 John St. in
the Wall St. area of New York. Our landlord is the Dutch Reformed
Collegiate Church who, I think, have owned property in this area
for over 300 years. We cleaned out our deep storage facility in
Brooklyn where most of our archival material now resides. Currently
we are living happily ever after.
Cataloging activity is now at the forefront. Our plan is to inventory
every event and accompany it with a single scanned image, something
we can put on our website. This brings us to the end of the grant
period, and into speculating about the future.
Martha and I agree that the most important part of future cataloging
efforts is the metadata that only she and I can assign to it. More
elaborate scanning and digitizing can always come later. Stay tuned
to the continuing saga.
Last modified: April 6, 1998. This file can be found below http://www.archimuse.com/mw98/
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