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MARCH 4, 2024
Good morning, Fearless readers:

Welcome to Women’s History Month. How will you celebrate?

I recently learned that one of my favorite companies, Piccolina, is taking an undefined pause and clearing out its merchandise. The brand sells clothing and art with screen prints of trailblazing women – my 8-year-old daughter owns Piccolina shirts that feature painter Frida Kahlo, journalist Ida B. Wells, educator-physician Maria Montessori and Olympic gymnast-pediatrician Amy Chow.

Some of Piccolina’s designs feature images that are more often found on little boys’ clothing than on little girls’ clothing: construction equipment, dinosaurs, botany, space and more. (I promise, I’m not getting kickbacks. I’m just a big fan of the company.)

During Women’s History Month, what will you do to support women-owned businesses, and businesses that empower women?

We still have a lot of work to do, my friends. In this week’s Fearless e-newsletter, you will find:

  • An in-depth profile of Julia Franklin, the new executive director of Mainframe Studios.
  • A column about confidence by Brittany Heard, lead adviser at Foster Group Inc.
  • In the headlines: For the third time in three years, the Iowa Supreme Court is preparing to decide whether and how the Iowa Constitution protects the right to get an abortion.
  • In case you missed it: Construction leaders like Perlla Deluca say that despite continued workforce challenges, the future for the industry is bright.
  • Lots more!

– Nicole Grundmeier, Business Record staff writer

Get to know Julia Franklin, executive director of Mainframe Studios
Photo by Duane Tinkey.
When Iowa artist Julia Franklin was a child growing up in north Texas, she would melt crayons on the hot lightbulb of a bedroom lamp.

She recalls this distinctly because she uses wax in her artwork today.

“I remember I loved the smell. I loved the translucent quality of melted wax,” said Franklin, who in December took over as executive director of Mainframe Studios, the artists’ workspace nonprofit in downtown Des Moines that opened in 2017. “I would dig in the backyard with my pink Baskin-Robbins spoon and create moats and create little cities just by digging in the dirt and playing in the mud every day and having to be hosed off before I could come into the house. Art is messy; there’s this idea of play that should be a part of what you do.

“I’ve always been making.”

Franklin previously worked on grants handed out by Bravo Greater Des Moines to arts and cultural organizations. She started her new job at Mainframe on a “First Friday” – an event from 5 to 8 p.m. the first Friday of every month that includes music, food, drinks, themed exhibitions and five floors of artists and shopping.

At Mainframe, she took over from Siobhan Spain, who had overseen the project since its opening. The Business Record caught up with Franklin recently. She explained how she approaches the job and what is ahead for Mainframe.

Responses have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Could you describe what exactly it means to be the executive director of Mainframe Studios?

First and foremost, I think the job is to take care of the artists and the building to ensure that we’re meeting our mission to provide affordable workspace for creatives. That’s my day to day: Is the building safe, are artists safe, do they have what they need to thrive? And then there’s things that support all of that, like fundraising. Working with the board, to make sure governance is happening and that oversight. It’s managing budgets to keep things sustainable. That’s the whole point. In some ways, I see it as relationship-building with tenants themselves, the artists and with community members. I see myself as that connector of artists to the community. I’ve witnessed every day, and I’m in awe of it, just the collaborative spirit that is here, and the willingness of people to pitch in and help solve problems with each other collectively. It’s incredible what the proximity of all these studios allows for.

About how many artists do you have?

We have 181 studios, which I also liken to small businesses. They are all small businesses. And we have artists who share spaces and we do have some nonprofits, so we’re over 220 people who work in the building on a regular basis.

What does a typical day look like for you? Or is there even a typical day?

I have yet to find a typical day, and I love that. The job is never boring. There will never be the same day. A lot of it is meetings with individual tenants, with community members. It’s also solving a building emergency and helping support the team in that way. It’s also helping plan for the future, especially for First Friday events, for any professional development that we do for artists.

When did you know that you wanted to be an artist?

I did not have an art class until I was a sophomore in college. I hadn’t been to a museum until I was a sophomore in college. It wasn’t something that my family did. It wasn’t discouraged, but it wasn’t encouraged either. But I think I’ve always been crafty, creative. All of my English reports would have illustrations with them.

I think about my life – my dad took his own life and died by suicide when I was 16. I have a feeling that was the moment: How do you tell that story? How do you move on from something like that? That really just changes the course of your life. When I was in college, still not even quite sure how to articulate what happened … words weren’t doing it, but art could. Art was so interesting because a shape or a color could represent a mood or a moment. There were ways to use those symbols to help start to address some of that trauma, some of that impact. It still took decades for me to really tell the story of that experience and look at my father in a different way and start to understand the pressures of the world.

Thank you so much for sharing that. And I’m so sorry that you went through that.

Thank you. I appreciate that. … People do things because you have to. You are doing it with fear, you’re not doing it because you’re fearless, you’re doing it always with fear. But you have to accept that uncertainty and that unknown. There’s an interesting part of that choice, of getting through the day, making change happen, and finding ways to share that with others. And I think that’s the power part, is that it may not resonate with everyone, but it will resonate with someone who maybe desperately needs to hear that they’re not alone.

It sounds like the job you had at Bravo was really cool. What made you apply for this job? What was it that really called to you?

I’ve been in love with the arts for easily 25, probably closer to 30, years now. Another passion of mine is helping people. I see my role as to uplift others. I really enjoyed my time at Bravo as a community investment specialist. I was working with over 90 arts and culture nonprofits, and they all had very different needs. Most were volunteer-led organizations; some are much larger institutions.

For most of us, there’s a small group of things that we go to and support on a regular basis. For me, it just opened my eyes to the wealth of opportunities in this town to learn about different cultures, different ways of creating. Performing arts, visual arts, in between, thinking about history, heritage, the stories that we tell, and I loved being able to help create systems that funded those organizations so they can continue that critical work in our community.

When I think about why I wanted to apply here … it was being back in this building every day, and being surrounded by artists who were doing the work and knowing that I could help tell their stories and help amplify and elevate the work that’s happening at Mainframe to new audiences in the city, in the state, in the region and nationally. There’s a lot of opportunity there, because this is a gem, and it should not be a hidden gem.

Do you have much time to make art?

I have not since I started this job. I set a deadline, so I have a small collaboration with another artist on the 29th of February. We’ll be doing a small work together. And so, yes, it’s still part of my life. It’s just not as much of a part of it as it was a couple of months ago.

What’s your favorite place you’ve visited?

I took a trip last year – it was a bucket list trip – to an island in Greece on the Aegean Sea to see the architectural ruins that were there, with a sunset in the background, and to understand that even the basic architecture is still what we use today, and that other cultures had that same basis for architecture. There was a simplicity to some of the work that was created thousands of years ago. I look at it as being almost moving toward abstraction, and yet we think about abstract art as being a 20th-century thing. And, it’s not. It’s happened before, and we just maybe weren’t paying attention. But you have to travel to see that and make those connections. Get out of your comfort zone.

At a glance
Age: 50
Hometown: Wichita Falls, Texas
Education: BFA in sculpture and printmaking from Midwestern State University, Wichita Falls;  MFA in sculpture and ceramics at TCU in Fort Worth
Family: Spouse, Davin (“he helps when I create large room installations, he helps build walls and figure out physics for me”), and daughter, Skye, 21 (“who’s taught me a lot about learning to look and appreciate all the details”)
Resides: West Des Moines
Activities/hobbies: Art is the center of everything, but also travel, reading and sunshine
Brittany Heard: For women to gain more power, we need to redefine it
Submitted photo.
I’m an introvert. Growing up, I was particularly shy and soft-spoken. Even though I was a good student and a good athlete, I lacked confidence. I was content to remain unnoticed. For years, I didn’t feel like this was a problem. It was just who I was – shy, quiet Brittany. I now know that many (most?) women, even those who are extroverts, are like me. They lack confidence.

At some point along the way, I realized my lack of confidence was a problem. I wanted to change. I also learned that confidence isn’t something you’re born with – it’s not that you either you have it or you don’t. It’s something that can be learned.

So, I started to get serious about growing in confidence. Five-year-old Brittany wouldn’t believe what 2024 Brittany is doing now: presenting to large groups, leading a women and wealth initiative in my workplace and confidently delivering financial advice to clients (both men and women!) who are double my age. At times, I step back and can hardly believe I’m the same person who, at one point, found it difficult to initiate a conversation with anyone.

Recently, I’ve started to think about the connection between confidence and power. Power is a characteristic typically associated with men. As a woman, I didn’t see myself as powerful and never thought about pursuing power. In addition, almost all of us, both men and women, have experienced the abuse of power. It’s painful. I had never really thought about power being necessary, good and something worthy of my attention. All of this changed when I read “The Power Code” by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman.

In “The Power Code,” Kay and Shipman describe the old view of power in this way: “Having power over a person or the ability to make people move or change.” Exactly! If this is what power is, I was not interested in having it. It felt particularly foreign to me as a woman. But Kay and Shipman provided a new definition of power. It’s a definition that not only makes sense to me as a woman but that, frankly, is a better way for all of us to think about what power is. Here is their definition:

Power is the ability to:
  • Exercise our will – which leads to more joy.
  • Have influence (not control) – which leads to less ego.
  • Effect change – which leads to maximum impact.

Yes! This definition makes sense. It resonates with who I am and the work I do. Seen this way, power isn’t something to avoid. In fact, it sounds amazing and worth pursuing. Power can be used to make things better, not worse. I can exercise my will, influence those around me and create positive change. I want joy and not ego. I want to make an impact on my clients and colleagues. I’m not interested in control – forcing my clients to make this or that decision – but I am interested in using the power I have to nudge them to make good decisions on their own. I can use my power to help people make wise choices and positive changes in their life.

In addition, as a woman whose view of power has changed, I want to help other women change their view of power. So, what can I (or, rather, we) do to encourage more women to feel comfortable pursuing and using power at work? The following are practical ideas Kay and Shipman detail in the book:
  • Women need to prioritize sharing our successes and achievements with our managers.
  • Women need to support the women around us, saying things like “Let her finish” if we notice a woman being interrupted.
  • We need to celebrate the wins of other women and champion them.
  • We need to encourage women around us to try new things and push themselves out of their comfort zone. (I have been involved with a Toastmasters public speaking club for the past five years and have grown so much from pushing myself.)

If we can help women believe that using power is both acceptable and good, we are more likely to achieve gender diversity in key leadership areas. That’s a good thing for everyone.

Women don’t need encouragement only in the workplace, though. We need to be encouraged to use power in our family and home life. Why? Because women still spend more time doing housework and parenting even when both spouses work. Kay and Shipman put it bluntly: “In other words, men are happy to have a female partner who has an education, a career, and a salary, but they’re not happy to do more chores.” Here’s an interesting and sad fact. Though one-sixth of American women out-earn their husbands, most of them lie about it on U.S. Census forms (men and women). This has everything to do with outdated notions of what power is and who should have it.

Submitted photo.
Thankfully, neither I nor my husband, Erik, has ever been shy about telling others that I make more money than he does. He works in education, and I’m a financial planner. Both of us believe we are doing what we are made to do, and we understand there’s a difference in how we’re compensated. Additionally, my husband and I have done a good job of sharing the roles that make homes “go.” He cooks, goes grocery shopping, decorates and much more. He single-handedly did all the back-to-school shopping. I’m responsible for all finances. I also spend plenty of time cleaning, doing dishes and laundry. This hasn’t happened by accident. We’ve had many intentional conversations and are committed to sharing the load.

Frankly, without Erik taking on more than men have historically taken on in the home, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I have achieved at work. It’s not about being perfectly equitable, but about doing what each of us is best at and chipping in when the other person’s job is more demanding. If you feel there is an imbalance in your home, perhaps it’s time for a conversation. Use your power to initiate the conversation. Talk about what each of you will be responsible for around the house. Include things like mental work (making appointments, planning, etc.) in these discussions. And when the roles have been defined, don’t micromanage. Whether at work or in the home, no one likes to be micromanaged!

For women to gain more power, we need to redefine it. And once power is redefined, we need to encourage women to pursue and use it for good.

Please see important disclosure information at A copy of our written disclosure brochure as set forth on Part 2A of form ADV is available at

Getty Photos.
In the headlines
The Iowa Supreme Court will rule on the state's 6-week abortion ban: For the third time in three years, the Iowa Supreme Court is preparing to decide whether and how the Iowa Constitution protects the right to get an abortion. The court ruled in 2022 that there is not a “fundamental right” to abortion, and overturned the court’s own 2018 ruling. But in 2023, the court deadlocked 3-3 on whether to revive the state’s six-week abortion ban, passed by the Legislature in 2018 but blocked by a Polk County judge from taking effect. The tie vote left the law permanently enjoined, according to this story in the Des Moines Register.

House sends repeal of Iowa’s gender balance law for government boards to governor: Republicans in the Iowa House of Representatives voted Feb. 26 to repeal a law that requires state and local boards and commissions to have an equal — or nearly equal — number of men and women, sending the bill to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk for her signature, according to this story by Iowa Public Radio. The state gender balance requirement was passed in the 1980s with the goal of helping women attain leadership positions in state government. This year, Reynolds asked the Legislature to end the requirement as part of her effort to streamline Iowa’s 256 state boards and commissions. Fearless wrote about the issue in-depth here.

West Des Moines sisters receive Carnegie Medal for heroism after saving boys from icy pond: Two West Des Moines sisters who saved two boys from an icy pond outside their apartment building were presented with international recognition for their heroic acts. Jasmine Morris, 16, and JaCora Lashale Morris, 18, were 15 and 17 years old on Feb. 25, 2023. That’s the day they saw two boys, who were about 9 years old, had fallen through the ice on a retention pond at their apartment complex, according to the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission. Jasmine and JaCora were presented with a Carnegie Medal on Feb. 23 — the highest civilian honor for heroism, according to this story in the Des Moines Register.

Report finds more than half of rural Iowa hospitals no longer deliver babies: A new report found the majority of Iowa’s rural hospitals no longer have labor and delivery services, according to this story by Iowa Public Radio. The Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform analyzed federal data and found that, as of last month, 61% of rural Iowa hospitals no longer have obstetrics care, and that, of the 36 rural hospitals still providing care, 58% were losing money on patient services overall.

Worth checking out
For Women’s History Month, a look at gender gains – and gaps – in the U.S. (Pew Research Center). With pandemic money gone, child care is an industry on the brink (New York Times). Sonya Heitshusen says WHO TV discriminated against her. What to know as her case goes to trial (Des Moines Register). An ectopic pregnancy put her life at risk. A Texas hospital refused to treat her. (Washington Post). How Clarissa Chun is building Iowa's first women’s wrestling program — and why it's all 'For Her' (Des Moines Register). Is menopause getting worse? Scientists say it is. (Washington Post).
Could women be the answer to the labor shortage in Iowa’s construction industry?
Photo by Duane Tinkey.
The Business Record recently interviewed Perlla Deluca, owner and CEO of Southeast Constructors. Here is part of that interview.

What challenges exist in the construction industry?

Deluca: Labor shortage was a challenge before COVID, and it obviously got worse after COVID, but it’s something that if materials [prices] go up, you’re going to shop around and find the best price you can, but if you don’t have guys show up, who’s going to do the work? So it’s been a struggle. Our older guys are retiring and there are not people in the middle who are in their 30s or 40s, but with younger employees, they still need to be trained, but we also have more technology. I believe that if we start training high-schoolers now, in 10 years we’ll have a good workforce again. The other thing is women only make up 10% of the construction workforce. In England and South America, they make up 50%, so I think we could fill some of the gap by getting more women into the industry.

Read the rest of the interview
Be fearless with us
At its core, Fearless exists to help empower Iowa women to succeed in work and life. We believe that everyone has a story to share and that we cannot progress as a society unless we know about one another. We share stories through featuring women in our reporting, featuring guest contributions and speakers at our events.

We are always looking for new stories to share and people to feature. Get in touch with us!

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