Arts News: We Open Shop Opens Wood and Metalworking Instruction to Women, Trans and Nonbinary Makers

From left to right: Megan Pace, Greta de la Rúa and Angelica Sandoval (welding helmet) (photo by Joshua Haines)

The smell of sawdust, the deafening din of power tools, the dull click and spark of the welding gun — these are the visceral, full-bodied sensations of being in a shop, of creating something new and seeing it take shape. However, for women, trans and nonbinary makers, this environment can be thorny with undercurrents of misogyny.

Enter We Open Shop, recipient of a 2023 Charlotte Street Cultural Producer grant and a newly formed 501(c)(3), with the mission “to create a supportive environment where women, trans and non-binary makers can grow creatively and professionally through accessible education in wood and metalworking.” The shop was founded by light installation artist Angelica Sandoval, fiber/2-D artist and Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art mount maker Greta de la Rúa and sculptor/Kansas City Art Institute instructor Megan Pace. With expertise in wood and metalworking in their professional lives, each founder knows the feeling of being discouraged and unwelcomed in male-dominated environments.

Last summer, We Open Shop invited the public into their space for an open house, complete with popcorn, snow cones and a lemonade stand. A live screen printer printed a limited-edition design onto guests’ upcycled garments. Sandoval, Pace and de la Rúa created their own art piece to raffle and collaborated on a cornhole lawn game set for the grand prize.

Community has existed within We Open Shop since its forming, with women from across age and gender spectrums being positively affected. Said Pace, “Kelly (a participant she worked with) was able to successfully learn how to use the horizontal bandsaw and the drill press, how to cold bend steel, prep, position and weld four identical legs!” Working with Sandoval, Madison (she/they), a nonbinary 12-year-old, was able to learn how to weld and build confidence at a pivotal time in their life. “Your time is valuable,” Madison’s father told Sandoval, “Skilled trades are $65 an hour . . . and I cannot express enough how motivating this was for her, spending time with you.”

We Open Shop is currently housed inside of Build Trybe, 606 E. 31st St., but it also exists wherever Sandoval, Pace and de la Rúa go. Participants can book a three-hour time block on a Saturday to either work on their own project or on a guided project, like a birdhouse or spice rack. They are given a survey about their prior knowledge to gauge how much guidance they will need. We Open Shop offers tutorials on making measurements, navigating the hardware store and selecting proper materials prior to sessions in order to maximize time in the shop. As de la Rúa explains, “We are providing people time. There never seems to be a good time to embark on a passion project. However, if we work together and give each other the time to learn and build, it utilizes our most precious resource.”

According to a recent press release, “We Open Shop meets attendees at any stage they are at during their creative journey from ideation to fabrication. We are dedicated to providing proper safety techniques, as well as providing an accessible shop that is a brave space for all.” As they continue to grow, the tenets of encouragement, safety and community stay at the center.

Sandoval explains, “I get to continue to share my technical and fabrication skills with a part of the community that isn’t traditionally represented in the building/fabrication industry. It means a great deal to me to continue teaching, specifically the underserved community like women, trans and nonbinary artists.”

“(We Open Shop) gives me the space to help rewrite internal and unwritten narratives that limit peoples’ beliefs of what they are capable of, places me in a supportive position within the KC community of other local artist/makers and refuels and inspires me towards growth in my own artistic practice,” adds Pace.

Keep an eye on We Open Shop as they continue to expand their outreach.

Find out more or register for an open shop session at www.weopenshop.org.

We Open Shop is among the featured artists at No Divide KC’s 2023 Annual Gala, “Awards and Applause,” Nov. 10 at 21c Museum Hotel. For more information, www.nodividekc.org.

Emily Spradling

Emily Spradling is an adult English-language instructor, freelance writer and founding member of the arts/advocacy organization, No Divide KC. She is particularly interested in the intersections of art, culture and LGBTQ+ issues.

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