By Kevin Collison
Johnny Dawbarn learned the value of creative collaboration during his time in the corporate world at Hallmark and now he’s established a more grassroots version in the East Crossroads called Collective EX.
The founder of the new honeycomb of creativity at 519 E. 18th St., which includes a reboot of Thou Mayest called “Thee Outpost,” believes the artisans, designers, crafts people and their patrons will add more appeal to one of downtown’s more eclectic areas.
“We’re a space celebrating creativity,” Dawbarn said. “It’s a space where a group of artists are curated to create goods for their own retail component or collectively with other artists and businesses outside our building.”
Visitors to the building, which opened this week, are greeted by a sign that says “We believe artists do their most amazing work when they discover and unfold what they truly stand for together.”
Upfront, there’s retail space for the collaborative work done at Collective EX and a spacious new home for Thee Outpost. A functioning pinball machine from the 1940s lends a whimsical touch to the environment.
In the back rooms are space for printmakers, apparel makers, woodworking, 3D printing, digital designers, photography and other creative endeavors.
Dawbarn said the space is designed for participants to come up with ideas and have the tools to execute them, either individually or together.
“For example, we’ll do a skateboard, design it digitally, work with a wood worker to mill it and than laser etch the design,” he said. “The artist will then shape and finish them out. It’s a cool process.”
Dawbarn worked at Hallmark for 25 years, first as an artist, later an “innovation leader,” guiding larger innovation projects and finally working in business development on pop-up retail projects.
He left Hallmark in 2016 with an idea of applying his creative business experience elsewhere.
“I thought it would be amazing to have a place where artists could push themselves and have the tools to create and execute the ideas they wanted them to be,” he said.
He was attracted to the East Crossroads because of its architecture and still edgy feel. Dawbarn first experience there was working as a DJ back in the late 1990s, early 2000s.
“I used to be worried about parking and that my stuff wouldn’t be there,” he recalled. “It’s not like that at all anymore.”
His collaboration with Bo Nelson of Thou Mayest came easily.
Dawbarn designed the graphics for Thou Mayest and when Nelson said he was looking for a new “shop within a shop” concept after closing his iconic coffee shop last winter, Collective Ex was a natural.
In addition to Thee Outpost, there are about a dozen other collaborators at Collective EX including Dawnbarn’s wife, Michele, who has her Sew KC apparel studio there.
For now, the hours of Collective EX are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week.
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