Trash to Treasure: Junkyard Social Club Inspires Play in People of All Ages

Jill Katzenberger and Ryan Madson conceived the Junkyard Social Club several years back. They broke ground in June 2020.
Jill Katzenberger and Ryan Madson conceived the Junkyard Social Club several years back. They broke ground in June 2020. Claire Duncombe
Jill Katzenberger, executive director of Boulder’s new Junkyard Social Club, points to an old school bus at her right. Although it’s gutted and its tires are sinking into the ground, Katzenberger says it will soon become a lush tea lounge with carpets and pillows.

“We like to play with juxtapositions,” she says of the Junkyard, a rebel museum, adventure playground and cafe that welcomes growth through healthy risk and imagination, inspiring childlike wonder for people of all ages.

The founders have been conceptualizing the space for a number of years and building its structures for the past twelve months. They’re currently in the midst of a crowdfunding campaign, with hopes of launching by the end of the summer.

When it opens, Junkyard Social Club will run like a museum: Kids will be charged a fee for the immersive play experience, and parents and guardians will have the opportunity to join in or simply take in the surroundings over a mug of coffee or beer and conversation. All will be able to enjoy myriad events, classes and rotating food trucks.

The Junkyard's 6,000-square-foot playground is already taking shape thanks to the combined effort of families and community members. Aside from the bus, there’s a stage with mazes underneath, a huge slide, and an airplane that will be welded to the top of shipping containers. Fort Collins-based artist Mitch Hoffman built a giant giraffe statue. Many of the play pieces are made with repurposed materials. The entire creation — in both form and process — nods to DIY culture and its ethos of finding beauty and inspiration in already existing objects and transforming them into something new.
click to enlarge This table's awning is built from old VW hoods. In the background is the stage for performances and impromptu play. - CLAIRE DUNCOMBE
This table's awning is built from old VW hoods. In the background is the stage for performances and impromptu play.
Claire Duncombe
“We blur the lines between who is a builder and who is an audience member," Katzenberger notes. And that creates an atmosphere where visitors are invited to learn from and grow with each other. Many who’ve helped with the building feel a sense of pride and ownership in the community space.

“I think my passion now is the feeling that the community has come together here," says co-founder Ryan Madson. "It's bringing in tons of diverse and niche and strange communities."

Katzenberger started brainstorming the concept of Junkyard Social Club during her years running programs at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. She loved how the atmosphere there provided young children with a sense of discovery and learning through play. “After managing [one] exhibit for about three years, I was definitely struck with this need and desire to think about what that looks like for all ages. Why do we stop there?” she says.

She questioned why a playful approach to science and invention is sometimes limited to young children and treated as a serious endeavor as they get older. In reverse, she also thinks kids are much more competent than most people assume. “Our job is to ensure that risks can be taken in a way that helps to build confidence. And our job is to also make sure that we’re avoiding hazards, because that’s where it can actually get dangerous. Risk in itself is a way that we can learn about ourselves."

Junkyard Social Club lends itself to many kinds of expression in addition to science experiments and building opportunities. She and Madson are also circus performers, Katzenberger says, and they infuse that flair into the way they play and think about using the space.

She has plans for staff — who will be dubbed "provocateurs of play" — to instigate moments of creativity by randomly bringing new parts out to the playground.

“All of a sudden, the play changes when you bring in a new variable, like tarps and giant clips, and the kids have the challenge of building their own little fort structures,” she explains.
click to enlarge Behind this giant slide, Junkyard Social Club will house a cafe and classroom. - CLAIRE DUNCOMBE
Behind this giant slide, Junkyard Social Club will house a cafe and classroom.
Claire Duncombe
Visual art made by community members and local makers will adorn the walls of the playground and insides of the coffeehouse and classroom. That aspect of the museum will be an ever-changing amalgamation of work that never gets stagnant.

Similarly, classes will be hosted on a rotating basis of what friends, experts and community members have to offer. The Junkyard is a place not only to nurture curiosity, but also to recognize the skill set that each participant has to offer. Likewise, the stage will be open for kids' play as well as a wide roster of performances.

As lifelong locals, Katzenberger and Madson hope the space will honor what Boulder used to be.

“Boulder was more of a funky artists’ town [in the past]. It was known for its forward thinking and mom-and-pop art shops. There was less of a corporate takeover,” Madson says. “And we see a real division between — in the town and the surrounding areas — the establishments that are there for like the 21-year-old drinking crowd, the young professionals and the family crowd. Where can everybody sort of be together?”

The Junkyard Social Club, of course.

To support the ongoing construction of the Junkyard Social Club, visit the group's crowdfunding website here. Junkyard Social Club is currently available for small parties and events. The space will host Cirque de Menses: A Menstruation Celebration, a live, outdoor, circus-arts performance with artists of the Fractal Society (formerly Fractal Tribe) on Friday, May 28, and Saturday, May 29, at 5:30 p.m., and Sunday, May 30, at 12:30 p.m.

Correction: Mitch Hoffman was misidentified in an earlier version of this story. We regret the error.
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Claire Duncombe is a Denver-based freelance writer who covers the environment, agriculture, food, music, the arts and other subjects.
Contact: Claire Duncombe