By Ariana Lovitt
The story of the Franklin Department of Public Art begins in Cincinnati, Ohio, where artist Gordon Strain flexed his creative muscles by crafting sculptures and painting murals in the city.
In 2016, Strain relocated to Franklin and established a personal art studio. Initially created for Strain and his wife, Dianne Moneypenny, the studio later expanded into a brick building on 100 S. Jefferson St.
The operation soon evolved to offer local studio space, classes, galleries and pop-up shops for local artists.
Strain, who is also chair of the Franklin College theater department, said the primary mission of the Franklin Department of Public Art is to better support local businesses and artists with their creative pursuits.
“What I love about art is what it can bring to a community,” Strain said.
As an active participant in local art himself – he’s responsible for the Ben Franklin mural at 351 E. Jefferson St., for example – he said he knows the power of creative expression on a personal level.
However, the department faced opposition from the city of Franklin, with officials citing zoning restrictions for murals to restrict art installations in town.
Fortunately, the dispute was cleared in July 2017, allowing Strain and his team to continue spreading murals and other artwork throughout the downtown area.
“The city is currently trying to become a cultural arts district,” he said. “Our push for public art, I hope, has helped the government and the public realize that we can have great art around, and that can be a tourist attraction to the city.”
Now, Strain is applying to receive a nonprofit designation for the department and shares space with Middle Davids Artisan Candles, another local business benefiting local artists. The Franklin Department of Public Art also offers internships to students who demonstrate an interest in public art.
“We’ve never been in this for the profit,” Strain said. “We’ve always been in this to give money to artists.”
The Franklin Department of Public Art also offers art classes, open to anyone who might want to learn something new. Over the summer, for example, the department will offer quilting classes.
Strain stressed the importance in offering opportunities to the community through which they can build their artistic skills. “I’ve had countless people tell me all the time, ‘I’m not an artist,’ or ‘I can’t do this,’” he said. “I would argue that anyone is an artist. You just have to try it and see how it goes.”