2019 Parents Fund Internship Grant Reflections: Rebekah Boggs

Internship Location: Franklin Furnace

Journal Entry #1:

My name is Rebekah Boggs. I am rising fourth-year student studying Art History and Computer Science. This summer I am working at Franklin Furnace, an avant-garde arts organization based at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Historically, Franklin Furnace has served as a safe, exhibition space for performance art works and a library for donated artist books. After donating the majority of its collection of artist books to the Museum of Modern Art, the principal efforts of Franklin Furnace have gone towards providing funding for performance art projects for emerging artists, as well as, maintaining its collection of remaining artist books. Its mission is to is to present, preserve, interpret, proselytize and advocate on behalf of avant-garde art, especially forms that may be vulnerable due to institutional neglect, cultural bias, their ephemeral nature, or politically unpopular content. In addition to its annual awarding of performance art grants, Franklin Furnace also serves the community through enriching, public programs. Those programs include, Sequential Art for Kids (SEQ ART), which is a program that places professional artists in public schools in New York City, and SU CASA, which provides a variety of art programs, such as dance, visual arts, and theater to senior centers throughout New York City.

This summer I will be assisting in the public service programs put on by Franklin Furnace along with a team of other college student interns. My team is also preparing to curate an exhibition focused on the artistic achievements of mentally or physically disabled artists that Franklin Furnace has worked with in the past.  My first week here went very well, I already feel very comfortable and engaged in the work that has been presented to me. Before jumping into tasks, I spent much of my first hours engaging myself with rich scholarship about performance art as a pedagogy. It was validating and refreshing as a student of art historical studies to be immersed in the contemporary ways art is being utilized in the classroom for cultural mobility and personal development. Performance art as a pedagogy allows for students to unravel the questions they may face about their identity through individual self-reflections or about the society they are a part of, through interactions with their classmates. These performances can be conducted and experienced by any student regardless of their age, race, or artistic background. This antecedent research and analysis of text before completing actual work for Franklin Furnace provided me with background and foreword for the work I will be conducting in the future in assisting Franklin Furnace’s public programs.

My overall goal for this internship is to gain a thorough understanding of the modes through which smaller, artistic organizations influence the communities for which they serve—particularly through public, education programs and open exhibitions. With my time here, I hope to be an instrument in these positive impacts through my assistance. I hope to further my appreciation of the efforts that are put in place to broaden the education of underprivileged youth and how art can be used in a number of contexts for teaching, growth, and revitalization.

Journal Entry #2:

I was delighted to be invited to assist in the celebrations following the culmination of a program titled “SU CASA”, that is implemented annually by Franklin Furnace. This program is centered around introducing public service programs that encourage and provide models for artistic expression in senior citizen centers. In addition to serving as a collection of donated artist books, Franklin Furnace, also annually administers public programs to bring arts into different communities. This specific program, SU CASA, placed three professional artists into senior citizen centers where they had the option of attending classes to be engaged in the art of theater, dance, or painting and collage. This event was an opportunity for the senior citizens to share the art they had produced throughout the course of the program. As a volunteer, I was given the chance to hear the program participants speak about their experiences learning to samba, creating a short film, or crafting a personal work of collage. It was moving to hear the citizens share the ways by which they were completely transformed by their participation in the SU CASA program. Many shared stories of their initial doubt or reluctance to be a participant in the given field of art. However, all shared a closing appreciation and pleasant surprise by the outcome of their work. A common response I have experienced whether it be at The Fralin last summer while participating in the Eyes on Art program or this summer while at the Bay Ridge Senior Center with Franklin Furnace, is the idea that art is something you either can or cannot do—a skill that doesn’t change. It is moving to be an instrument in overturning those notions that no matter what gender, color, or age, one is capable of creation.

Being immersed in the results of the SU CASA program and speaking with the artists who executed the activities was productive in advancing my understanding of how art can be utilized as a form of public service. Especially taking place in New York, arguably the worldwide center of marketable artistic purchase and exchange, it was refreshing to be involved in a process-centered upon giving rather than profiting from the service of art. Participating in the SU CASA program and gaining access to the manner by which other Franklin Furnace sponsored public service acts are enacted gave me a tangible understanding of how artistic organizations give back to the community. Prior to this experience, service work through art, aside from my experiences volunteering in Charlottesville, had been a more abstract concept. It was extremely beneficial for me to see this concept in action during my time at Franklin Furnace.

Journal Entry #3: 

A little over a week ago, the Franklin Furnace 2019 intern team hosted our official opening for our exhibition titled, “Label This.” To bring this project alive, we were in charge of planning, researching for, and curating an exhibition surrounding accessibility in the arts. It was appropriate timing that this was the focus of our exhibition as this July is Disability Pride Month! The exhibition exists in part with a Disabilities Act timeline produced by the Learning and Access center at Pratt Institute. Designing this exhibition was a lot of work because we did not have a budget so we had to make everything by hand (with only cardboard and a color printer!) In the end it came out really great and each participant’s individual creativity shined through. The exhibition featured five artists who had been awarded performance art grants by Franklin Furnace. Each artist had a unique relationship with disability which they began a conversation around through their performance work. I was in charge of the portion of our exhibition that was dedicated to the artist Lisa Bufano. Lisa Bufano was a bi-lateral amputee who challenged notions of normalcy and what is means to be “human” by taking on different forms through the exchange of prosthetics and at a times performing without prosthetics. Her work was truly inspiring and I am honored to have been able to in some part share her legacy.  In addition to the physical exhibition, we made a zine to be distributed to the artists and their families.

Here is a link to a digital copy of the publication we made to accompany our exhibition:https://issuu.com/labelthis2019/docs/franklin_furnace_exhibit_2019__2_. I was also in charge of designing posters for our exhibition opening which was fun and exciting because I got the chance to pin up my work around the city.

Overall, I could not have asked for a better experience and am indebted to the generosity of the Parent’s Fund for allowing me to participate in this internship. I am privileged to have worked for an organization that is small in size (about 5 full time staff members) but maintains such strong connections in the art world that I was able to gain a valuable, inside understanding of how the goals of furthering education in the community are executed by a non-profits arts organization. My final task as an intern, creating an exhibition from scratch, is useful in understanding this process: you use what resources you have, to effect as many people as you can. Through conducting research focused on performance art as a pedagogical approach, analyzing and observing the public service programs carried out by Franklin Furnace, and materializing the efforts of public service through artistic education in a physical exhibition at Pratt Institute I have expanded my knowledge of the crucial role art can play in education of a given community.