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Academy tries to ‘re-imagine midlife’

The Modern Elder Academy outside Santa Fe is slated to open in 2023.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — On a 2,566-acre slice of the scenic Saddleback Ranch wedged in the Galisteo Basin between Lamy and Galisteo, a new way of thinking and learning will soon be taking place.

The population’s growth of people aged 45 and above presents an opportunity to meet the needs of a vastly underserved segment of society, entrepreneur Chip Conley, said of his brainchild, the Modern Elder Academy.

“I found out there was a real need for people to re-imagine their midlife, and how to live life and re-purpose themselves,” he said.

Three years ago, he began bringing experts on various subjects to a beachfront property north of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, for weeklong workshops. And folks came in droves as some 1,200 people from 24 countries are counted as alums. The average age of attendees is 54 and 75% are between the ages 45-65.

“There’s certainly a need for it,” Conley said. “We’re living longer, work is changing faster, power is moving younger and it has a lot of people in midlife confused. The suicide rate for people 45-65 is 50% higher than it had been. People are asking themselves, ‘How can I stay relevant? How can I change at age 50?’ These are things people need to learn.”

Conley got the idea for the Modern Elder Academy while at an Airbnb four years ago. Conley, 52 at the time, was still twice as old as the average Airbnb host and was known as the “modern elder.”

Building on the success, Conley and three partners checked into 20 different U.S. markets for the expansion home of the academy before deciding the outskirts of Santa Fe was just the spot.

“New Mexico has a long history of Native American and Hispanic elders that have had a profound impact on the state,” Conley added. “We look forward to working with them and including their wisdom in our programs.”

The group acquired the land in January, which includes four homes, for $8.5 million.

The Modern Elder Academy outside Santa Fe will be a place for people to re-imagine their midlife, according to Chip Conley, who plans to open the academy in 2023.

“Santa Fe’s iconic culture and sense of place, enchanting natural environment, and intergenerational and diverse population make for an ideal setting for MEA,” said MEA partner and chief development officer Skylar Skikos. “We are working closely with the community to design the project to best serve the local area. We are particularly excited about extending our educational programs to the local community, and adopting regenerative agriculture and other sustainability best practices that will introduce a new standard for the region.”

On tap, the group plans to build a clubhouse and a small number of homes.

“People can come there, do a workshop for a week,” Conley said. “They can come live as a primary resident or take a sabbatical session for one or two months, working on a special project and enjoying the outdoors.”

The academy will likely open in June 2023, he said, with construction planned to begin in the first quarter of 2022.

“And we will grow from there,” Conley added, noting the residential aspect of the project isn’t expected to be completed until 2024.

“We will have two workshops at a time of 18-20 people for each workshop,” he said. “We’ll use existing homes, utilizing some and buildings staged for the academy. The maximum we’ll have is 40 people on campus at the same time.”

More than 75% of the property will be put into a long-term conservation easement as permanent open space so it cannot be built upon, Conley said, and it will include a trail system with public access.

The partners also plan to introduce regenerative agriculture, and principles and practices to the land to help climate change by restoring the land’s organic matter and rejuvenating degraded soil biodiversity.

“We hope to be a catalyst for a new kind of inclusive, intentional community that helps mainstream the idea that wisdom isn’t taught, it’s shared,” Conley said. “And it’s often shared across generations, in both directions, as a modern elder may have as much to learn from a young person as vice versa.”