Maker Village KC’s Nick Ward-Bopp talks sustainability and inclusionary spaces in The Pitch Questionnaire

Kansas City Photographer Jason Domingues Photography Maker Village Kc 0669

Nick sketching out a design on a piece of reclaimed wood. // Photo by Jason Dominguez Photography

Maker Village KC is located in a lofty industrial building on Kansas City’s 31st St., an area with small businesses, art, and bars that’s often referred to as Martini Corner.

Owner Nick Ward-Bopp says he created Maker Village for the community: folks can use the space and equipment to collaborate on projects. In the classes he offers, they can also learn to work with their hands and, most importantly, utilize that knowledge as a means of empowerment.

At first glance, the inside looks like a typical wood and metalworking shop. But then again, there’s a Pride flag on the wall, a shop dog, and a garden out back complete with compost bins. One purpose of the shop, Nick says, is to make wood and metalworking more accessible to women and people in the queer and trans community who may have been excluded from male-dominated shop classes.

Nick gives us the run-down on reclaimed wood and solar power, his day-to-day operations, and Build Trybe in The Pitch Questionnaire.

Social handle: @makervillagekc

Hometown: Crawfordsville, IN

Current neighborhood: Hyde Park, KCMO

How did Maker Village come to be?: It’s a looong story, but it basically came from my best friend, Sam Green, and I trying to figure out a way to simultaneously pay back our student loans and learn how to do things with our hands after graduating in the midst of a recession.

We hatched a plan to rehab an old commercial building in exchange for rent equity and through that process learned about the DIY/maker movement. We wanted to create a place to cultivate that knowledge and empower others through making things.

What kind of classes do you offer?: Normally, we offer introductory woodworking and welding classes for people to learn to make simple things like a cutting board or plant stand, as well as interdisciplinary classes that combine woodworking and metalworking skills to make a small piece of furniture.

We also offer open shop sessions for people to keep building on what they’ve learned or to just come and utilize equipment for projects. I say “normally” because this August there’s a new little person joining our family, so we aren’t offering classes for summer or early fall.

Your classes don’t fit the “shop class stereotype”—you have women-led guilds and a pride flag hanging in your space on 31st St. Why is being inclusionary so important for you?: Over the years teaching at the shop, I have heard repeatedly from women who were not encouraged to use power tools, take woodshop in high school, or explore pathways to engineering. In many cases, they were prohibited by parents, teachers, etc.

This sentiment is often stronger for members of the queer and trans community, who have traditionally not been welcomed or encouraged in male-dominated shop spaces. This has to change, and although we are just one small business making changes, it has already made a big impact on the culture and community of our workspace, as earlier this year for the first time, we had more female members than male ones.

For more information about the women-led guild at Maker Village, check out We Open Shop on Instagram. Also, follow Cherry Pit Collective, the all-female art collective full of talented artisans and small business owners.

Kansas City Photographer Jason Domingues Photography Maker Village Kc 0246

An interior view of the shop on 31st. // Photo by Jason Dominguez Photography

What about sustainability? Is there an environmental aspect to what you do?: All the wood that we use for our classes is reclaimed and we have solar panels on the shop that generate almost enough electricity for the whole shop. All our scrap metal is recycled, and our sawdust is free to anyone who wants to use it for composting, gardening, or otherwise.

Our neighbors at Oddities Prints are leading the way with a new recycling set-up for all the small businesses on our corner of the block, and we just installed separated recycling receptacles and signage. Even so, we have a long way to go to making our shop more sustainable.

What are you reading?: I just finished Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir and loved it. I’m a sucker for sci-fi, historical nonfiction, and memoirs by comedians.

Favorite musician/artist right now?: Recently I watched Guava Island with Donald Glover and Rihanna, which just made me love that record (Summer Pack) even more!

What do you like the most about the space you’ve created?: It started out as “Nick and Sam’s” space to create, but is now Greta’s, Angelica’s, Ted’s, Paulina’s, Will’s, Justin’s, Megan’s, Tara’s, Becky’s, Theo’s, etc. We even have a program for at-risk youth that operates out of the shop called Build Trybe, where foster youth learn skills in woodworking and metalworking and actually get paid for their training in the program.

What new projects are you working on, wood, metalworking, or otherwise?: We are doing some improvements at the shop, planting native flowers, doing hardscaping, and planting a tree in the backyard. The backyard has had a harsh industrial feel for years and we are excited to soften that up with plants and shade.

What does a day in your life look like?: A day for me at the shop usually involves taking out the trash, recycling, watering plants, emptying the dust collector, fixing or maintaining a piece of equipment, putting woodworking magazines in the Little Free Library, picking up trash out front, troubleshooting a project or idea with a member, answering emails, and coordinating work on the building.

Sometimes I’ll walk or ride my bike to the shop with my toddler, Forrest; sometimes I’ll drive all over town looking for a missing part or picking up toilet paper, sandpaper, or paper towels for the shop. I think, like most small business owners, that the day-to-day operations don’t always sound glamorous.

Lots of folks wanted to get into home renovation projects while we were at home for a year. Did you see more interest in wood and metalworking?: We did have a member join that was specifically using the shop for home renovation/making furniture, but I wouldn’t say that we saw a huge uptick in classes or members joining.

What are three new things you’ve learned in the past six months that have changed your life for the better?: An artist and friend of the shop, Chico Sierra, recommended the Stuff You Should Know podcast, and I’ve listened to a bunch of episodes from how geysers work (which is fascinating), to why wombat poop is square, and how plasma waste converters could save the world.

What does Kansas City need more of?: Covered bus stops, dammit.

Kansas City Photographer Jason Domingues Photography Maker Village Kc 1147

A woodpile outside the shop. // Photo by Jason Dominguez Photography

Categories: Questionnaire