Over a year ago I put up a post that turned into one of the most popular articles on this blog – and it had nothing to do with paper mache. In that post I suggested a few ideas I had for creating a new artist community. The idea seem to resonate with a lot of readers, and we got many interesting comments. Of course, the actual process of creating something like that is somewhat overwhelming, so it was just talk.
But maybe it doesn’t have to be that hard….
Last night I added something to my New Year’s resolutions – I’m going to put my current house on the market (chickens will not be included…) and I’ve picked out my spot. If I can sell my house, (which may not happen, of course, considering today’s market), I’ll be moving to a small town nearby. The scenery is fabulous, there’s plenty of water (at least for now), and housing prices have come down enough to be affordable. (For me, affordable means under $70,000). There’s even easily accessed geothermal power, for someone who knows how to get to it (I don’t, but a greenhouse warmed naturally from the underground heat does sound like such a nice idea…).
I guess that means I’ll be an artist community of one, at least for a while. But if I can find an old house with a lot big enough to support more people, garden-wise, I might be able to offer space for a room-mate. (They say you can feed four people on 1/4 acre, if you garden intensively.) That would make it a community of two, right? Then more people move into the neighborhood, and we’ve got our community — no organizing, no costs for creating infrastructure, no need for a lot of committee meetings – it seems like the easiest way to go. Besides, there’s a really nice “community” of regular folks there already.
There are no jobs there, of course, and that will be an impediment for most people. Sigh – there’s always something…
With the economic news coming out of Europe in the last week, and the currency wars that are heating up, and the increasingly urgent problem of peak oil, it seems to make sense to try to find a spot where survival is possible, even without a lot of “real” money coming in. That would be true whether you like messing around with paper mache or not, of course. If all goes well and the economy picks back up, we’d still be living in an incredibly beautiful place. That sounds like a win-win situation, to me.
Of course, if I sell my house next spring, someone will probably turn my newly-created garden spot back into lawn, but some things you can’t worry about, right?
So – do you think this is crazy, or what?
Edited 12/11/10 – new remarks below:
In one of the comments below, Janis said: “I have fantasized about this idea for a very long time, but for me I think it is just fantasy, it sounds wonderful and ideal, good luck…”
The book I’ve been reading the last few days explained why so many of us have fantasized about a move like this, but never actually make the move. I’ll paraphrase John Michael Greer’s remarks about what he calls the “lifeboat ecovillage” movement. (I like that name – I’d never heard it before). Greer looks at history from the vantage point of an ecologist. He said that major social changes don’t all happen at once — and although we can see that many changes are happening now, and we can expect more changes in the future, we can’t really know where those changes will take us over time. It’s like the changes that happen in a forest when a virus kills off all of one species of tree – you can know that the ecology of the forest will change, but you can’t foresee how the forest will look in a hundred years, unless the exact same thing has happened before. The things we’re going through now have never happened before, so any guess about what the future holds is really that – a guess.
The lifeboat ecovillage idea, a planned community in a small, beautiful town or in some rural spot, may (or may not) be a good solution to a distant future that may never really come – and in the present moment, where we actually live, most of us can’t afford to give up our homes and jobs and move to a place where there’s little chance of making enough money to pay the mortgage. In other words, no matter how enticing the dream might be, we know the move would be expensive, and the risk of failure is simply too great. That means, if I moved to Cove with the hopes of being followed by creative people, (like the great people who read this blog), I would be sorely disappointed. Because you’re too practical for that.
As for H’s comments to the effect that a bunch of artists could never make a community work, I’d admit he’s probably right – but only if one assumes that we’re talking about a communal-type situation where like-minded people need to get together and actually be responsible for each other on a daily basis. The creative temperament does tend to become totally focused on a project or idea, and then, in a month or a year down the road, the focus moves on to the next project, the next idea, and may even move the artist on to another state. That focus and willingness to do something new is wonderful, but I happily admit that it doesn’t make for a stable group of people if they all need to get to the committee meetings on time.
But my vision has never been about an artists’ commune, although I’m sure I’ve never explained it very well. My ideal is more like the neighborhoods and taverns in Edinburgh during the Scottish enlightenment – where creative people from all walks of life came together over a glass of beer, (or five), and talked to each other about philosophy, economics, and probably a bit of gossip and scandal. And then they went home and wrote books that are still being read today. The arguments, rants and divisiveness would have destroyed that group of people if they all lived in the same house or if they were all counting on each other to do their chores every morning. But those same arguments helped them improve their own creative visions.
I want that kind of conversation. It isn’t easy to create, but when you find it, it can help create a new world.
Greer appears to agree with me on this issue. He says that what we need to get ready for an uncertain future is not consensus or agreement, but as many diverse ideas as we can get. Most of those ideas will fall by the wayside – at the moment it’s impossible to know which ideas will survive over time because we can’t know what kind of future we’ll have. He says we need the kind of collective mind that great artists have – the ones who are compelled to look at things in new ways and to ignore “common knowledge.”
That variety of ideas will help protect us the way genetic diversity protects a species when it encounters environmental change. If you don’t know what’s coming you can’t make plans for it on a grand scale, but you can open up enough options so that at least some people and some ideas will survive to rebuild after the crisis is over.
Communes do exactly the opposite. Last year I saw an add by a planned community looking for new members. They listed the required social and political views they wanted their potential new members to have, and they specifically mentioned they were looking for “outgoing” people. No introverts need apply. Sheesh! Artists could never survive in a community like that for long – nor should we.
But there will be changes, and they may be coming soon. We just don’t know exactly what to do to get ready for them. One scenario could be that the current economic downturn soon lifts and our society realizes that we need to conserve the little oil and gas that we have left. As the cheap energy goes away we rebuild our technical colleges and put more people to work doing actual work – building stuff with our hands. In a few years, our country looks pretty much the way it did back in the 1950′s, but with more people.
Or, unpopular government austerity measures could result in mobs attacking a car that holds the future king of England. Oh yeah – that happened already — but we don’t know how that event will affect what happens tomorrow. And that’s kind of the point. To get ready for anything the world can throw at us, we need to use our creativity to find new ways to conserve the little oil we have left, to find ways to record old ways of living so that workable technology doesn’t get lost, and we need to start growing as much food as we can, right in our own back yards. If we can also have that conversion I want so badly, then that would be cool, too.
It’s highly unlikely that creative folks, like you all, will feel inclined to give up your current homes to come live in eastern Oregon, no matter how pretty it might be, since that makes little economic sense for you at the moment. Unfortunately, the Internet is a very big energy hog, so it may not last forever (and it’s vulnerable — if the Wikileaks folks’ attack on Amazon.com had been successful this week, a lot of people who put my books on their Christmas wish list would have be disappointed when they looked in their stockings on Christmas eve… )
If we can’t all move to a new spot and have a real-time conversation at the local pub, and we can’t count on the conversation continuing forever over the Internet machine, I guess that just means that I’ll have to turn my focus to the local community that is already here and see if I can find out where all the creative energy is hanging out. And in the meantime, I’ll keep moving my own household towards self-sufficiency, which, in the short term, is the most reasonable thing to do.