Shaping the Arts: Julia Franklin ’00


Mainframe Studios exterior

Mainframe Studios mural by Molly Spain and photo by Ryan Damman. Both are Mainframe tenants.

The “Shaping the Arts” series highlights TCU College of Fine Arts students, faculty and alumni who are at the forefront of their field and Lead On, Creatively.

We spoke to School of Art alum Julia Franklin ’00 about her role as executive director at Mainframe Studios in Des Moines, IA, the largest 501c3 nonprofit creative workspace in the country.

“Our goal is to make Mainframe Studios a place where everyone feels welcomed to come learn and appreciate the fine arts,” says Franklin.

Fostering the Arts

Image of Julia Franklin ’00. Photo by Paige Peterson.

Julia Franklin ’00. Photo by Paige Peterson.

After a successful career in the arts, Franklin decided to pursue a new opportunity at the thriving community space, which features five floors, 180 studios, and over 220 artists. Franklin’s background includes roles as a Bravo Greater Des Moines community investment specialist, an art educator at Graceland University and Des Moines Area Community College, and the Anderson Gallery Exhibitions and community engagement manager at Drake University.

In her role as executive director, Franklin has already made an impact with a keen focus on developing community connections and preparing creatives for thriving careers.

“We have this building, but it’s really a hollow structure, and it’s the artists who bring it to life with their talents and artwork,” explains Franklin. “My focus is to help develop and strengthen them, whether it’s providing professional development, networking, or whatever they need to succeed. That’s something we are well-positioned to provide and facilitate.”

Mainframe Studios provides a collaborative space for artists of diverse disciplines and experience levels. Franklin and her team carefully select creatives, ensuring accessibility for emerging and highly experienced professionals.

“We want people to be able to walk in and think, ‘This is an entry point for me.’ We’re building it out to focus not only on artists in the building but also on developing equitable opportunities for everyone in the community.”

Making Accessible Art

Mainframe Studios offers accessible spaces for artists who may not be able to afford a studio but still wish to share their artwork. This enables them to learn storytelling, interact with potential clients and patrons, and showcase their work for greater visibility. Mainframe also hosts Monday coffee hours, where peers provide professional development insights. This forum educates the public on the value of the arts, shedding light on elements such as the cost of supplies, time invested and the intricate design process.

“As an artist, I understand the significance of having a studio space, and the resources we can offer are truly unmatched nationwide,” explains Franklin. “Taking on the role of executive director, my goal is to elevate Mainframe Studios to be recognized as a national asset. While we are well-regarded within the state, I believe there are a lot more opportunities for artists if they are connected at a higher level.”

Mainframe Studios offers First Friday events, providing a space for artists and the community to come together and celebrate the arts. Franklin’s vision includes reaching diverse audiences who may not have envisioned themselves at Mainframe Studios. The goal is to create a welcoming presence in the downtown area, fostering inclusivity and expanding the studio’s reach to a broader community through tours, demonstrations and workshops for k-12 schools, colleges, universities, corporations and private groups.

“Many people may not necessarily understand what art encompasses and the natural creativity found in their daily lives. We often don’t apply ‘art’ to activities like cooking, which, depending on how you’re baking it, plating it, and enjoying that experience, can be seen as temporary art. I think there is definitely more we can do to bring people into this understanding and appreciation.”