People of a certain age start to think about how and where, and with whom, they want to live out the rest of their days. How long can I live at home without help? If I downsize, how can I continue to make art? What if I don’t want to live with or near my kids? What if they don’t want me? How can I afford to get the help I may need? How can I avoid being lonely?
These are just a few of the types of questions that start cluttering a senior’s (or almost-senior’s) brain. Personally, I’ve envisioned an aging hippie commune. But Sage Hill Partners may have a better option for artists like me.
Headed by Cindy Turnquist, Sage Hill Partners is all about community shaping and village making. Turnquist dreams of creating a senior artist village for a core group of artists who are ready to think creatively and plan the way they’d like such a village to look, feel, and operate. But Turnquist’s dream is nothing without the dreams of the artists.
The gathering of like-minded people who want to live in community where they make their own rules and design all aspects of community living is nothing new. It’s called “co-housing,” and there are already some co-housing communities in Utah and many around the country. But this is the first time, at least in Utah, that the focus is on artists. “The goal for the artist community is to have both public and private art spaces . . . [and to] partner with other arts organizations to provide outreach in the larger community for culture and arts engagement,” explains Turnquist.
Unlike a traditional development, in which a developer designs the community and then looks for buyers, the co-housing model starts with the buyers who are integral to the visioning and design process, including the selection of a site for the project. In a series of workshops over six weeks, interested villagers get acquainted, share their likes/dislikes, hopes and dreams, and reach consensus about what would make a successful community. People may drop in and out during the six weeks, but the hope is to end up with a committed core group.
Turnquist explains that co-housing typically involves individual living spaces, along with common areas where residents might gather for a few weekly meals and other activities. In the case of the artist village, common space would include private studios as well as a public studio space where residents might hold art classes for one another or the outside community. Residents look after each other to whatever extent they desire, which might include watching pets during vacations, rides to doctor appointments, or help with grocery shopping. When aging residents need more help than that, they might engage a professional caregiver who could help more than one resident at a time. These types of assistance could also provide respite for family caregivers.
Co-housing often appeals to what Turnquist calls “elder orphans,” those who have no spouse or children, or other close relatives. Spouses or partners are not excluded from the community however. Bev Cooper, a community activist who is helping Turnquist with planning and marketing, says, “I can’t imagine why a senior wouldn’t want to participate in something like this. The tremendous advantage is that your friends are right there. You might be out for a walk and meet up with a neighbor who is also a friend. You don’t have to make an appointment to get together.”
Cooper has studied, visited, and been involved in co-housing projects in other parts of the country. She has seen groups create co-housing in an apartment building. She’s seen other communities design duplexes, townhouses, and separate houses. The group decides what works for them. She likes the fact that co-housing projects can commit to sustainable living through “green” building products, solar heating and cooling, and environmentally friendly practices. With living space capped at about 1,200 square feet, residents reduce their footprint in a downsized space that’s about right for senior living. The community’s common space includes guest rooms for visitors and other entertaining spaces.
Sage Hill intends to make this an affordable community where most residents will own their own living quarters. Assuming residents agree, they’d also like to provide some rental units as a lower cost option.
Sage Hill is hosting a series of workshops, which started Feb. 15, for six weeks. (Visit www.sagehillpartners.com for more information) Hopefully, a core group of about 10 committed people will emerge from the workshops. Cooper says she has been part of workshop groups where she immediately felt like she had 20 new best friends. Indeed, participants may find that compatibility with the people is their top concern about co-housing before even considering location, design, space, and other key criteria.
Cooper, who has been trained in “dealing with difficult people,” says that groups who are committed to co-housing value diversity and learn to work together toward consensus even though it may be uncomfortable at first. In any community, she says, there will be those who are your best friends and others you hope you don’t see very often.
At an information meeting on Feb. 1, one of the attendees was mosaic artist Elise Lazar. She and her husband of 43 years have been investigating the co-housing concept as a possibility for their future.
“We’ve lived here in the same house for 30 years,” said Lazar. “We’ve had 40 people live with us during that time, for as little as month and up to three years. I like the idea of having a community that you live with.”
Lazar notes that as you age you begin losing many of your friends. “Not that co-housing prevents that, but it creates a community and you’re not isolated.
The idea of an Artist Village has tremendous appeal for her. The access to studio space and being among other artists is important. “I would expect it to be artfully designed as well.” Lazar’s mosaics are in public art installations in the Salt Lake area as well as Gunnison, Colorado, and in Helper. She also has shown her work at the now-defunct Patrick Moore Gallery and at Pilar’s Garden.
Lazar isn’t sure she and her husband are quite ready to downsize enough for co-housing, but they aren’t ruling out the possibility. Their other main consideration will be the people. “We would want to be with people we feel compatible with.”
The best way to find out whether co-housing in an Artist Village is for you is to attend some or all of the upcoming workshops. If you’re worried about compatibility, gather a group of friends you wouldn’t mind living among and bring them along.