This story was picked up by the Huffington Post.
LOS ANGELES (Neon Tommy) — Aside from a few small details — a bronze peace sign above the front door and a turquoise bus parked in the driveway — this craftsman house in a quiet West Adams neighborhood looks just like any other.
Once inside, the sounds of the electronic pop band Passion Pit and the smells of vegetarian Thai curry drift throughout the home.
It’s nearing 8:30 p.m. and pretty soon a hand-carved wooden whistle will signal to anywhere between 10 and 20 people that dinner is ready.
Three people come down from upstairs, where one was crafting a leather belt while the other two drew in bound notebooks. A pair of women emerges from the den where they had been discussing what to pack for the Burning Man Festival — a 25-year-old event that is considered an experiment in the organic creation of community.
“Do you think it’s at all possible in our lifetimes to see the complete disintegration of societal structure as we know it?” began the evening’s dinner discussion at a long, blue table just off the kitchen.
“That would be terrifying,” responded Matt Wright, a 33-year-old doctoral student in Korean and Asian studies at the University of California Los Angeles. “Revolutions are a terrible idea.”
After a long debate, the group came to a consensus that the best way for social change is to create small changes in one’s self that will organically spread to everyone around them.
And that’s exactly what the group of 10 diners — unusually small for a Thursday night — is attempting to do in their home, better known as Synchronicity.
Synchronicity is an intentional community, a phrase that hundreds of similar communes use to denote a family or tribal atmosphere where each member supports and looks after the rest through shared work and supplies.
“It’s not a community of just doing chores (because you have to),” said Bryan Wiedenheft, 29, whose turn it was to cook dinner. “To live here, you have to actually be interested in getting to know people and talking to people and hanging out.”
In the United States there are about 2,000 intentional communities that are organized around various interest groups, said Laird Schuab, executive secretary of the Fellowship for Intentional Communities.
Among other things, the fellowship publishes a directory of registered communities, which shows that 57 groups identify themselves as being artistic, including Synchronicity and five others in Los Angeles.
These groups across the country range in size from eight people to more than 100. They take their cue from the hippy communes of the 1960s and attempt to foster creativity through an open and accepting environment.
Unlike the groups of the 1960s that were mostly set in rural, isolated areas, Synchronicity and many others today are located in the city, where their members often work in disciplines other than art. But once back home, their creative endeavors flourish.
While many of the residents make a living as teachers, social workers and nonprofit organizers, they fill their free time with painting, recording music, sculpting or working with photography.
“It’s hard not to be influenced by the creative nature of … the house,” said Wiedenheft, who enjoys photography and carving wood. “When everyone is creating beautiful things around you, even if you’re not an artistic person, it drives you to want to create something, to do something.”
The drive is so strong that the group hosts salons on the first Friday of every month where the members can show off their current projects to each other and the public.
However, Schuab said there is likely more to the commune lifestyle than celebrating artistic ventures.
The communes, he said, are a reaction to today’s culture, which is dominated by technology and social media that promote artificial relationships and diminish human interaction.
“There is a deep hunger in this country for a greater sense of community belonging or connectedness,” he said. “We are dealing with a mainstream culture that is increasingly alienating and felt to be unsafe and so this is a way to address those issues.”
Twelve people live in the nine-bedroom home — including two couples — while an additional 20-30 people live in the surrounding neighborhood and take part in the community.
To join Synchronicity, one must fill out an application with questions ranging from how the applicant feels about alcohol and drug use to how they anticipate contributing to the community. The group reviews all applications together to decide who will be admitted.
Wiedenheft lived in the house for a little more than two years until last summer when he moved out to his own apartment one block over. However, he continues to buy a meal plan at the house.
“My personal favorite part … is just the community vibe,” he said. “I can come home from work and I know that there’s going to be 20 people here having dinner … it’s like Thanksgiving every day.”
For those living in the house, the cost per month is $500, which includes rent, utilities and all food and supplies. Those living outside the house can either spend $20 a month for a half-time meal plan or $40 for a full-time meal plan that encompasses four meals a week, Monday through Thursday.
The members living in the house pair up and rotate through cooking dinners and doing other household chores — everything from cleaning the bathrooms to maintaining the spa or feeding the cats.
The kitchen is flooded with food. More than 100 spices sit in racks on the counters, bags of rice and pasta line the floor and two refrigerators are constantly stocked with everything from organic carrot juice to a variety of beer.
Watch an audio slideshow about Synchronicity:
(Story continues below)
Upstairs, Betina Vazquez, shares a room with her boyfriend Michael DeMarinis, II. The two met at a sacred fire drum circle deep in the woods near Apple Valley, Calif., and have been together ever since.
Vazquez, 22, is a professional belly dancer and DeMarinis, 33, a private chef.
When she decided to leave Las Vegas to join her boyfriend in Los Angeles the couple struggled to find a place they could afford — at least until they found a room to lease at Synchronicity.
The communal style living appealed to them both.
“It always just struck me as being something that was really important to the human spirit — which was always being amidst your family and your friends and your loved ones in a very festival-type environment,” Vazquez said.
They said since living at the house they have found themselves to be more tolerant and accepting of other people, learning to share and accommodate their roommates in such close quarters.
Communes like Synchronicity share many characteristics with traditional artist-in-residency programs where artists are invited to live away from their normal environment, usually without economic constraints, in order to dedicate their time to art.
These artistic retreats have been around in the United States for 100 years, but there are only about 500 residency programs in the country and most require an artist to have a lot of formal training.
“In a society that so undervalues artists, for (them) to be able to step in to a place for a week or a year … where they are totally valued and totally trusted, it’s really transformative for a lot of artists,” said Caitlin Strokosch, executive director of the Alliance for Artists Communities, an organization that advocates artist-in-residency programs.
Strokosch said that it was not surprising that artists are forming their own communities where they can share the supplies, space and cost of creating their work.
She said that one of the things artists find most beneficial about the residency programs is that they can create their art without the fear of being judged or evaluated.
“The fact that artists are developing an environment to live in where they have that creative peer set there all the time is really tremendous,” Strokosch said.
Across town from Synchronicity, 10 artists and musicians live together in a home they call Villanova in Westchester near Los Angeles International Airport.
In the driveway the artists have built a teepee out of broken instruments. The garage has been converted into a music studio and the walls of each room are covered with hundreds of pieces of colorful sketches, collages and paintings that have been collected for years.
“I definitely … am very inspired when I am surrounded by people who are constantly creating and pushing to exceed human limitations and expand their mind and body and soul in all directions,” said Anna Jackson, who specializes in drawing mystical creatures, such as mermaids, ferries and those that exist solely in her imagination.
Jackson compared herself and her roommates to the 3-year-olds she teaches at a preschool in Venice.
“We are just silly-gooses,” said the 27-year-old. “Our goal is to embrace and encourage the inner child and let that part of ourselves be free.”
On a regular day about 20 people hang around at the Villanova working on art and music, but equally as important to them is the way they eat and the positive energy they bring into their home.
All of the housemates are either vegan or vegetarian and all of the water consumed in the house is gathered weekly straight from a lake in Big Bear, Calif.
Jackson sleeps on a mat filled with positive-energy crystals on the floor of an RV parked in the driveway. She has placed a Buddha figurine between the driver and passenger seats to watch over her while she sleeps.
While Jackson said that living in an intentional community has countless benefits, the lifestyle sometimes has its drawbacks.
“I’m at a point where I am really excited about meeting goals, so it can be challenging sometimes … trying to focus without being interrupted in any way,” she said. “It’s really forcing me to refine my focus.”
She also noted that artists aren’t known for being the cleanliest or quietest of people, which is a common complaint among neighbors according to members at both communities.
As Jackson points out several of her art pieces, one of her roommates, a multi-instrument musician, asks if she has seen her saw.
“It’s in the living room, right in front of the glass case,” Jackson said.
Sitting down on a piano bench, the girl puts the base of the saw between her thighs, bends the blade with her right hand and starts to draw a violin bow across the non-serrated edge.
As a beautifully slow and melancholic rendition of “Amazing Grace” fills the living room, the rest of the roommates gather and begin to hum along.