ArtsHub apartment building

Ester Malzahn: Connected to Residents While Living in a Close-knit Apartment Building

Ester Malzahn is a 39-year-old arts administrator. She currently works for the Government of Alberta, but has been an arts administrator for Mile Zero Dance Society and Quarters Arts Society. 

Malzahn had just moved to ArtsHub, a three-storey apartment building housing artists and arts administrations on 118 Avenue when the pandemic started. She had two friends in the building.

For many people, living in an apartment building can be an isolating experience, even in normal times. There are few, if any, communal spaces to get to know your neighbours. However, ArtsHub was designed to facilitate community.

Malzahn said, “It is night and day compared to other apartment buildings. We have monthly social events, weekly patio hangouts, and drinks. During Covid, we did these with social distance. It’s awesome compared to other places I have lived.”

For many people, living in an apartment building can be an isolating experience, even in normal times. There are few, if any, communal spaces to get to know your neighbours. However, ArtsHub was designed to facilitate community.

“I have always had to initiate friendships in walk-ups.” At ArtsHub, she didn’t have to work hard to create relationships. “There are 16 suites with one to two people per suite. I know everyone by name. There are multiple opportunities to connect with people in the building. There is an email service that goes to everyone.”

During the two month lockdown, many people chose to stay away from others. The communal nature of ArtsHub facilitated those efforts to remain as healthy as possible. .

Malzahn explained, “I would say, ‘I am going to the grocery store today. Does anyone need anything?’ or ‘I am not leaving my suite today. I left my garbage outside. Can someone take it down?’ or ‘Can you pick up my medication?’”

She continued, “I leaned on people during hard times. Times when I would have needed little things when I would normally run to the store, I messaged instead. ‘Can you pick this up?’”

For people with no health conditions, the thought of Covid might not be worrisome. For people with pre-existing conditions, it is more frightening. 

“There is an elevator and the cleaner is Covid safe. We made arrangements. It’s still nerve wracking. I use my sleeve to push the buttons in the elevator.”

Malzahn shared, “I have health conditions. Bipolar II—the lower-key version, and MS [multiple sclerosis]. I was diagnosed in August 2017. I woke up one morning and my eyeball was facing off to the side. I just about threw up. It was called ‘optic neuritis.’”

She explained, “I was dizzy and it hurt a little, but not as much as you would think. I was working at the Fringe [Festival] for Workshop West.” Malzah went to the volunteer booth to tell them she couldn’t work. “I staggered my way through the crowd, past a fire-breathing street performer. I could see two of everyone. I needed to change my shift.”

“I went to the emergency [department]. They told me this is a common beginning symptom [of MS]. I have had no episodes since, but it’s called relapsing-remitting MS. I am on medication and need an infusion every six months. My neurologist said my immune system is not the best and if I get any sort of infection, it can throw my nerves and immune system off. I don’t want to get anything that could set off my immune system. It could put me in a wheelchair or I could go blind.”

The isolation didn’t affect her.

Malzah said, “I am not lonely. I am an introvert and I had the Internet. I didn’t have to go anywhere. There were no expectations.” She added, “What got me down was so much news. So much going on in the world. I had a low-level depression.”

ArtsHub apartment building

Although Malzah is an introvert, she still appreciated the opportunity to socialize and to connect with the community at ArtsHub. Residents organized patio hangouts for whoever could come, and she felt supported and safe. 

“A few people who had plants on the patio socialized while watering the plants.” 

Living in an apartment building provided an interesting perspective on life for people who spend much of it on the streets. Malzah has insomnia and observed the street below her.

“Covid didn’t affect the nightlife. Many people on the street are marginalized in the first place.

It is noisy at night,” Malzah observed. “One night at 3 a.m., I heard a radio. La Isla Bonita [by Madonna] was playing. The radio was in a baby carriage. She was strumming an acoustic guitar. She just kept playing the radio, switching stations. She wore a tank top and was there on multiple nights. Another night, someone else was hanging clothes in the tree [across the street].”

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