by Jenny Elig // photography by Angela Jackson
The biography on Gordon Strain’s website, gordonstrain.com, is jam-packed with artistic acts. Strain is immersed in various endeavors, with a sizable output.
After stints as a production designer and teacher in Cincinnati and as an animated store window designer in New York City, Strain landed in his role at Franklin College, where he, his wife, Dianne Moneypenny, and a host of community players began producing art. “Now I sort of joke that I do this theater thing to support my public art habit,” he says.
By day, he serves as the chairman of the theater department at Franklin College. By night and any other hours he can garner, Strain is half of the Franklin Department of Public Art — an organization he co-founded with his wife — and is one-third of the Indiana-based film production company Pigasus Pictures.
In his precious few off hours, Strain spends time with family, hanging out with Moneypenny and kids, Darian Harvey, a senior studying studio art and film studies and art history at The College of Wooster, and Josephine Strain, who attends Center Grove Elementary School.
Recently, Pigasus Pictures’ “Ms. White Light,” starring Judith Light and “MisEducation of Bindu” screened at Heartland Film Festival; “The MisEducation of Bindu” was named the Indiana Spotlight Grand Prize Winner. We’ll pick up Strain’s story there.
1. You have producer credits on “Ms. White Light” and the “MisEducation of Bindu,” both by Pigasus Pictures. What’s Pigasus Pictures?
I got my MFA at IU. Back in 2003 to 2006, we had our weekly $5 poker game with some of the other MFAs. Everyone goes off and does their thing. In 2014, I got word that some of those guys were getting together to make a film. They needed someone to design it. I thought, that’s exactly what I do, so that’s how I worked on 2015’s “The Good Catholic.” None of us had made a film before. I was kind of like, all right, I enjoy designing, but I can see where I can also help improve the process. Now we are three Indiana guys trying to build a film company in a state that doesn’t really have a film industry. We divide and conquer to do whatever we need at the moment.
2. Do you always film in Indiana?
“The Good Catholic” and “Ms. White Light” were filmed in Bloomington. We filmed scenes for “The MisEducation of Bindu” at Indian Creek High School. That’s the great thing about doing film in Indiana: There is no industry, so everybody wants to help. We want people to enjoy the experience. We’re all theater guys who started this; we want it to be like a theater where everyone is working together on this. We want it to be mutually beneficial. We’re scrappy. And, speaking of southside connections, next summer we’re slated to do a biopic about Gary Brackett, who had a rough childhood and adulthood and ultimately became captain of the Colts. He is the owner of the Stacked Pickle franchise location in Greenwood.
3. What’s Franklin Department of Public Art about? What is your role in it, and why did you found it?
Dianne Moneypenny [Strain’s wife] is the co-founder and co-owner. She knew and understood my passion for public art, and we started hunting for a studio space. We founded FDPA to help Franklin become more aware of art, whether it’s us teaching classes, or gallery, or creating art that’s gone out into the community. We operate like a nonprofit, with a board and volunteers.
4. Why is Johnson County, for you, a good place to make art?
When I started at Franklin, it was always like, I’ll just be here for a few years. And then my wife and I, we thought, do we want to stay here? She works in Richmond. Her commute is awful, and we thought about moving to Indianapolis. But we really decided that ultimately, if we stayed in Franklin, we thought we could help make this cute little city what we wanted it to be. You can ride the train or you can help build the train.
5. What do you want people to have learned about you from this interview?
I just want to say that none of what I do is possible without help. People will say, go talk to Gordon, he’s the art guy. But it’s never just me. I have a partner, Greg Potter; we do the crazy hours on these sculptures and the murals. I can’t remember what year the Johnson County Community Foundation started its mural project, but Kim Minton and I started that program.
Discover Downtown Franklin is a huge help, and Rhoni Oliver with the city of Franklin has worked tirelessly to help us inject art into our city. With the movies, obviously, it takes a village. It’s just not one person that makes all of this happen. It takes collaboration. It takes multiple people to make these experiences happen.