After 20 years in healthcare and senior housing, Tim Carpenter hit a wall. Bingo, donuts, and Medicare would be his undoing.
All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up. ~Pablo Picasso
One day, he encountered an old gentleman sitting in the club room alone. Turns out the fellow had been Preston Tucker’s right-hand man.
Francis Ford Coppola fought 20 years to bring Tucker and his doomed automobile to life ( in Tucker: A Man and His Dream written by late bloomer David Seidler).
Tim was astonished. “What are you doing here?”
The man answered, “Well, I’m dyin’ here.”
And Tim thought, “There’s gotta be another way.” He eventually channeled that conversation into founding EngAGE, Inc., a nonprofit that provides “arts, wellness, lifelong learning, community building and intergenerational programs to thousands of seniors living in affordable senior apartment communities” in Southern California.
Tim took the university model for these communities:
We started hiring college-level professors and doing real programming. We put things on a semester basis, and end every semester with culminating events and opportunities to use skills in real-life applications. If you do a painting class, you have an art show. If there’s a poetry class, we have a poetry slam.
The program’s average participant is age 72 with an annual income under $11,000. They struggle to pay for groceries and medication. Without EngAGE, they’d never get a chance discover their inner artist.
The Nation’s First Senior Artist Colony
In 2005, EngAGE catalyzed the development of the Burbank Senior Artists Colony, located not far from Walt Disney and Warner Bros. Studios. The New York Times describes it as “Golden Girls” meets Yaddo (the legendary arts center in upstate New York).
The Burbank complex includes art and sculpture studios, a digital film editing lab, an outdoor performance space, and a 45-seat theater.
An agent once paid the acting class a visit, looking for commercial talent in this fast-growing demographic. Tim Carpenter says,
“We try to offer a large variety of things. It’s all about reinventing yourself. We have a lot of people who dust off their dreams to try something for the first time.”
No prior artistic experience is necessary, but residents must be 55 or older. Most of the apartments rent for market, which can be pricey in Southern California, but 30 percent are earmarked for low-income seniors. Two more Colonies will open this year.
Who Might You Meet at the Burbank Artists Colony?
Retired dental surgeon Gene Schklair, age 80, now a full-time sculptor. He sells his quirky, life-size figures for as much as $18,000.
Singing cowboy Buck Page, age 84, a regular at the Thursday night jams. Mr. Page performed with Audie Murphy and others in dozens of films, where he was best known for the line, “They went thataway.” (He passed away in 2o06.)
Susan Knode, age 63, who took her first screenwriting class at the Colony. Several residents collaborated to bring her script, “Bandida,” to life. The film did well on the festival circuit and Susan was featured on Showtime’s “This American Life.” Susan’s prior artistic experience — single mother to two daughters.
Someone once asked Tim about the major obstacle faced by EngAGED. It wasn’t funding or support.
Most of the resistance comes from the seniors themselves. Many don’t feel they are deserving of these classes or of becoming artists.
We are all deserving — and it is never, never too late!
I’m a few years away from being eligible for the Burbank Senior Artists Colony. If if weren’t for my handsome hubby, who’s several years younger, I’d be putting my name on the waiting list tomorrow. What about you?
Here’s Tim Carpenter giving an 11-minute TEDxSoCal talk on “Thriving As We Age.”
- L.A. Times: Aging artfully at the Burbank Senior Artists Colony
- N.Y. Times: Retirees Discover A Place to Foster Their Inner Artist
- Dowser: Tim Carpenter on Aging and the Arts
- Huffington Post: Tim Carpenter: Social Entrepreneur Is Revolutionizing Senior Housing