When Gordon Strain, associate professor of fine arts, isn’t in the Johnson Center for Fine Arts, he can be found at the Franklin Department of Public Art, just a four-minute drive from the college.
Strain, known for his artwork, needed a space that wasn’t his house to complete larger-scale art projects. His wife proposed that the two invest in a vacant building across the street from downtown Franklin’s Ann’s Restaurant.
“We thought, ‘Well, it’s a neat building. What are we going to do with the rest of it?’” Strain said. “Our dream is just to get more art into the community.”
With this dream in mind, the couple knew the space had more potential to serve as something more than an art studio.
After they purchased the space last October, both Strain and his wife wanted to open it to the public. Just a few renovations is all it took for the Franklin Department of Public Art to be ready for a grand opening by the end of November.
“We’ve now turned it into this gallery-studio,” he said.
From graphic designs to ceramics, and from paintings to handmade jewelry, the Franklin Department of Public Art has it all on display for the public to view and purchase.
When it initially opened, Strain said the gallery served as a space for local artists to sell their work at zero commission for the holidays. But that proved to be more successful than he planned for.
“I’ve lived here 11 years and know a few artists here and there, but this has really expanded my knowledge on how many people are doing art in Franklin and are looking for a place to do art, to show their art.”
Since opening in late 2016, Strain said he has paid out around $10,000 to public artists, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive for him and his wife.
Local businesses such as Benjamin’s Coffeehouse have displayed work included in the art department’s latest gallery installment, Love Letters. The special exhibit featured art revolving around concepts of love and letters.
Strain said many people have expressed gratitude in the addition of an art gallery to the city. And several Franklin College faculty and staff members, including graphic design professor Wendy Shapiro and English professor Jameelah Lang, currently have work on display at the local gallery.
“One of our goals is to help continue to build that bridge between the community and the college,” Strain said. “If this is one little way we can help make connections, then that would be wonderful.”
In an effort to build community relations, Strain is currently planning a spring break art camp for children, which is set to take place during the week of March 27. He also recently hosted a free art class for Syrian refugees in the area.
But despite the success of the business, Strain said he is there for one reason: to create a space where art is accepted.
“It was hard at first being in Franklin and not having a lot of art out there,” he said, speaking on his move to Franklin from Cincinnati, Ohio. “It’s great that now this community is wanting it and accepting it. That personally is wonderful, and it shows health and excitement of the entire community that we are at a place that art is on people’s mind. It’s not just something scary that weirdos do.”