Brenna Quinlan’s passions are art, sustainability and education, and she combines these three into what she calls ‘Art as Activism’. Having lived and worked on permaculture sites around the world, her drawings convey the power of permaculture and localization principles, and act as powerful tools for environmental and social justice movements. She created the illustrations in Local Futures’ Localization Action Guide.
Henry Coleman: First, Brenna, thank you for your gorgeous illustrations for the Action Guide. Your illustrations make the ideas of systems change, permaculture, localization and more come alive for many people. What role do you see yourself playing in these movements?
Brenna Quinlan: My role in the global movement for change is bringing what I do to the table. The exciting thing is that, if we all do what we love in a way that makes the world a better place, then we’re more likely to keep doing it long term, and by having all hands on deck, we’ve got more energy to turn this ship around. My role is to draw solutions into being – I love inspiring and motivating people with my Art as Activism. I also live what I preach; I grow food, avoid plastics, travel as little as possible and engage with my community at every opportunity.
HC: How did you get into this work? At what point did the importance of reconnecting to local places become clear to you?
BQ: I lived in South America for four years, and spent a chunk of that time riding around on a bicycle, visiting permaculture properties and volunteering with people trying to make the world a better place. On that trip, I really began to understand the resilience, beauty and logic of investing in our communities. Self-sufficiency is hard work, but community-sufficiency is what it’s all about.
HC: How does your living experience with permaculture and localization impact you on a personal level? And how does it inform your worldview?
BQ: Since I began my journey of learning about this stuff, it’s changed my life in every way possible. I used to be stuck in the trap of work, rent, bad food and depression. I cared about so many things, but my life had very little outlet for meaningful action. Then I realized there was another way. I’ve lived in intentional communities all over the world, and spent the last four years living at Melliodora, the permaculture demonstration site set up by permaculture co-originator David Holmgren and his partner Su Dennett in Central Victoria. I’ve learned to meet most of my needs in a way that gives back to the planet, and my illustration work gives me opportunities to speak my message on a daily basis. I’ve never been healthier or happier.
HC: The issues we are dealing with can seem too big to influence. In your opinion, what is the role of bottom-up, community-centered action in dealing with the crises of our time?
BQ: Top-down action is great, but it’s slow to change, and, as individuals, it’s hard to envision how we can ever change the minds of the big corporations or politicians. The answer is grassroots community action. We can have a huge influence as individuals, but at the community level we’re leveraging our energy to help it reach further. The added bonus? That communities influence local politics, state governments, and eventually influence those at the top. How great is that?!
HC: Of the 146 actions described in the guide, which ones stand out to you as particularly important or inspiring? Why?
BQ: I love that the actions in the guide span solutions from those we can start today, like moving your money to an ethical bank, and those that we can aim towards, like supporting policy action in the financial system. One of my favorites is ‘Be part of a gift economy’, because it’s actions like this that have so many positive run-on effects, many of which we can’t even predict until we get it up and running.
HC: To end, please offer a piece of your vision for healthier, happier, more equitable and more regenerative futures. Don’t feel pressure to encapsulate everything – it would be an impossible task. Simply give us a glimpse.
BQ: In my future vision, people are happy and empowered, as well as connected to others and to this wonderful world that we call home. Respect is paramount, and equality is the name of the game. We have the skills that we have only recently lost – of pattern recognition in the natural world, of food growing and land stewardship, as well as community governance and animal husbandry. We also have time to laugh, to ponder, to wander. A future where we can step off the hamster wheel, kick off our shoes, and feel the grass under our toes.
HC: Thank you so much Brenna. People like you make that beautiful future seem more than possible. May we continue to work together to bring it about!