Inside the Cherry Pit Collective, sunshine pours through windows once fortified by plywood boards.
Artists don’t bother to flip the light switch as they fill jewelry orders, try new painting techniques, chat about craft fair deadlines and explain the delicate art of papermaking to a visitor. Mellow music fills the air.
The Cherry Pit Collective, which opened last month in a rehabbed building at 604 E. 31st St., looks a lot like an art studio but operates more like a co-working space for entrepreneurs who sell services or goods to retail stores, online shops such as Etsy and craft fairs. The collective attracts artists, makers and creative types who previously set up shop in basements and bedrooms or at dining room tables.
“Our artists, for the most part, are entrepreneurs and freelancers, not people who are making art for galleries,” says Cherry Pit Collective director Kelsey Pike, a papermaker. Most artists in the collective, she adds, “need to be working all the time because they have deadlines and they have product to ship.”
The collective is divided by stalls, but everyone’s workspace opens to an inner aisle, which encourages collaboration and ideas. Other than workshops and special events, the building is not open to the public like a typical maker space. But the mantra — “community not competition” — follows the maker spirit.
“We’re not gonna build up walls and shut doors because we want to be able to work together, not separate,” Pike says. “We all have skills to share with each other.”
The collective, which is fully rented, also includes an illustrator, a painter, two jewelers, a sewist, a soap-maker and herbalist, ceramicists and an intuitive counselor who is also a palm reader.
“We’ve got some heavy hitters,” Pike says.
The different art mediums and complementary skill sets of each artist are by design. Everyone at the Cherry Pit Collective has something to offer.
Here’s how Pike describes it:
Danica Lyons is a web developer by day and a sewist (an artist who creates sewn works of art) by night. Her marketing and public relations knowledge can be helpful to the other entrepreneurs.
Jenn Rogers, who uses the space for her graphic design work, is a graphic designer at Hammerpress Letterpress + Design Studio.
Sarah Preu, owner of Wild Wash Soap Co., has a background in copyright, retail sales and merchandising.
Jewelry designer Tara Tonsor spends her nights working on product for her Lost & Found Design jewelry business and her days as an educator at the Kansas City Art Institute.
Pike, who also works at the Kansas City Art Institute, and painter Adri Luna have successful Etsy shops and are ready and willing to help others navigate the economic side of artistry.
Because the Cherry Pit Collective emphasizes cooperation, harmonious relationships are key. So as Pike sorted through applications from artists, she looked for artists who could pay rent — between $200 and $700 per month — and exude positive energy.
When the collective opened in August, Pike posted a phone list in the space that not only included contact information but also everyone’s Myers-Briggs personality type, which measures a person’s preferences are in areas such as introvert/extrovert and judging/perceiving.
To Pike, it’s a communication tool, just like an email address.
“Knowing each other’s types helps us to know how to communicate and work together,” she says.
The Cherry Pit Collective is part of a small but significant transformation shaping the area around 31st and Cherry Streets in midtown. Some believe the DIY maker movement could give the area a new artistic spin. Nearby businesses include Oddities Prints and Maker Village KC.
“What this area is or what it’s going to be is still kind of undetermined,” says Nick Ward-Bopp, co-owner of Maker Village KC. “I think we all are people that want to make it better. … And that DIY grit is definitely here.”
Ward-Bopp and his friend Sam Green own the Cherry Pit Collective building and Maker Village KC, which is next door at 606 E. 31st St. Maker Village KC plans to open its workspace to the public in January so community members can have access to commercial woodworking and metal-working equipment.
Ward-Bopp says Maker Village KC has been open to the public in a limited capacity for programs, including a recent DIY bicycle trailer workshop for women.
“We are not normal developers and business types that are just throwing loads of money at it,” says Ward-Bopp, who adds that he and Green spent years thinking about remodeling the buildings and getting Maker Village KC started. “We’re going more at it with a little bit of DIY and grassroots investment. It’s just a different way to grow and develop a community.”
The Cherry Pit Collective is a pivotal part of that work. It will bring people to the block and generate more excitement for Maker Village KC and other businesses, he says.
Ward-Bopp and Green remodeled the Cherry Pit Collective building on their own. It has served several purposes but most recently housed junk. They tore out plaster, constructed bathrooms, installed a new HVAC system and more. It took months. The end result is a simple brick interior with small but striking design details including exposed PVC pipe painted green, rustic stained floors and a retro green kitchenette. It puts most artist studios in Kansas City to shame.
A typical artist studio wouldn’t cut it for the collective’s entrepreneurs. Many studios don’t have sinks, but a sink is a must-have for a papermaker or ceramist. Many studios also don’t have heating and cooling, rendering them unusable for six months out of the year.
But at $100 a month or so, some studios are so cheap that artists don’t mind.
“To me that’s some strange math,” Pike says.
At Cherry Pit Collective, entrepreneurs are willing to pay more to work throughout the year, which helps them keep up with demand and contribute to the region’s economic development.
“I don’t get to (say), ‘Oh, I’ll just make this paper leisurely whenever I feel like it,’ ” Pike says. “I’m always making and keeping up with orders.”
While the collective is not a public maker space, it will host public workshops, educational seminars and more. Programs are designed specifically for artists. Classes range from Etsy Basics, a workshop for artists looking to sell their wares online, to Maker Church, a Sunday morning gathering where artists and creative people can share problems, complain about clients and learn from others.
Pike says that interaction is essential in an industry where so many work alone. Commiserating is important, because often friends and spouses who work outside the industry don’t understand.
“It would be like a doctor complaining to a chef,” Pike says. “They don’t really understand your struggle.”
The group is also planning a workshop on how to improve web search results and a #girlboss happy hour. Expect classes on tax preparation, how to sell at a craft fair and more.
On a recent Sunday, business owners were prepping orders for upcoming events and lightheartedly lamenting the all-nighters they’re likely to pull before fall shows.
Before the collective opened, many of the entrepreneurs worked at home in makeshift studios. Pike had to set up shop in her parents’ garage in Lawrence. Tonsor admits she was tired of being holed up alone at home.
“It’s lonely as a maker. You can isolate yourself very easily,” Tonsor says.
She craved social interaction and input from other artists.
“There’s just something really motivating about being next to someone else,” Tonsor says as stall mate and fellow jeweler Tarrah Anderson helps her wrap up some work recent day.
Anderson likes offering and receiving feedback on new products, too.
“(Tonsor) can turn around and go, ‘What do you think of this?’ And I can give her direct feedback,” Anderson says. “You don’t have that at home.”
Cherry Pit Collective’s communal vibe means the artists who work there will share mistakes and successes — and, hopefully, learn from them.
Pike hopes that years from now, the Cherry Pit Collective artists will have created a new community, one that’s rooted in art.