Making a Case for Making

Sam Green (left) and Nick Ward-Bopp in the future home of Maker Village KC
Sam Green (left) and Nick Ward-Bopp in the future home of Maker Village KC

An interview with Nick Ward-Bopp on community and the maker movement

Next time you’re in Midtown, keep your eyes open for a brick building with a new glass façade around 31st and Cherry. Although it might not look like much now, on the inside this space is slowly shaping up to be Maker Village KC, a new maker space and the brainchild of duo Nick Ward-Bopp and Sam Green. Childhood friends from Indiana, Sam and Nick have been renovating the building since 2014 with the goal of creating a space that artists, entrepreneurs and craftspeople can use as a designated work space and come to for instruction and equipment—especially large-scale equipment they might not otherwise have access to on their own. Kansas City Spaces sat down with Nick Ward-Bopp recently to discuss the concept of the maker space, how the duo’s plans are taking shape and what the future holds for Maker Village KC.

Kansas City Spaces: Can you explain the concept of the maker space for those who aren’t familiar with it?

Nick Ward-Bopp: Maker Village is a community wood and metal shop with the idea being that most people don’t have access to big, high-end commercial equipment, especially people living in Midtown or downtown where they don’t have space for it. We’re not your typical maker space though. Maker spaces usually have memberships and all-hour access. This community shop is going to start out just being open on Saturdays and grow slowly and organically as demand grows.

KCS: How did Maker Village come to be? What inspired you?

NWB: Before Maker Village there was the Jarboe Initiative. At that time, we had just graduated and were trying to figure out a way to save some money. We didn’t love our day jobs at that point, and we had this energy. We wanted to learn how to do stuff with our hands and make something. We really wanted to buy an old building, but we couldn’t afford it—so we schemed this plan to find an old building and make a contract to rehab it in exchange for rent. I was riding my bike around the Westside, and I stumbled upon this guy watering flowers next to an abandoned building—and that’s how we started up the conversation.

Through the process of rehabbing the Jarboe Initiative, we realized how much we didn’t know about DIY projects, and how much equipment you need to do something like that. Toward the end of that project we looked for an old building to purchase ourselves so we could open a place that would offer tools and instructions for those who want them.

KCS: How did you settle on your current building?

NWB: It really looked unimpressive from the outside. It was a one-story building that was next to some cool brick buildings. It was covered in plaster and had a messed-up roof. But once you got inside, it has all this masonry and brick and steel. We think it was built by a utility back in the 1800s. It was built like a bomb shelter; it has these great bones. And it has a really unique concrete vaulted ceiling with big steel rafters that we’ve never seen in another building in Kansas City. Once we saw it, we were after it.

KCS: How is progress coming? When do you plan to open?

NWB: I run the maker space at the Johnson County Library, and Sam is an engineer at Burns & McDonnell, so we work typically on the weekends and evenings during the week. We’ve been working on it since early 2014. We are renting one entire side out to a new business called The Cherry Pit Collective, which is going to have studio spaces for artists and entrepreneurs. And then our other half of the building is where Maker Village will be. It’s going to be opening on Saturdays in the spring of 2017.

We have put out some surveys to see what people want in terms of access, equipment, what kind of classes and workshops they’re looking for, etc., and that’s how we’ve guided how we built it out. Part of the reason we’re opening in a slow manner is that we don’t want to open and discover that some of that perceived demand wasn’t real and we have to close our door. Our goal is to be around for 60, 70, 80 years. We’re not in any rush.

We mainly self-fund. We both have full-time jobs and that really helps. We live inside the building as well so we don’t have rent or a mortgage on top of that. That’s part of the idea of the whole project, figuring out a way to learn how to do stuff and not get completely indebted at the same time. We also make a few products for Boulevard Brewing wholesale, such as reclaimed coasters and occasionally some six-pack carriers, and we do periodic workshops.

When Maker Village opens, workshops will be open to the community, but we will also be open for other independent contractors like woodworkers, metalworkers and jewelers to come teach classes as well. We will be the sandbox for that to happen. We feel we’re adding to the ecosystem of making in Kansas City.

KCS: Are there any other maker spaces in the city currently?

NWB: If people are interested in Maker Village and maker spaces, there are other resources around the city. I’d like to put a plug in for Hammerspace, a maker space that’s already open in Brookside. There’s also the FabLab down in the East Bottoms that is run by Metropolitan Community College. People kind of pull each other along here. It’s not, in my experience, as hard to break into the scene, and people really do want to help each other and collaborate. There’s a lot of great spaces and people already out there.