I don’t know Ellie Harrison. I have never met her in person. But that is just as she would have it.
I encountered her via Skype at the International Teaching Artists Conference in Edinburgh last week. Ellie prefers Skype because she does not travel, at least she is not travelling at present. Why? For all the reasons you might predict. Most forms of modern transportation take fuel, notes Ellie, and Ellie is not into the fossil fuel thing. She admits that even with all the precautions she takes, it is impossible to avoid the use or consumption of fossil fuels entirely, but she is trying her best. She is in Glasgow, and even though it is a short hour by train to Edinburgh, she insisted she should not travel.
Ellie is an artist and activist, and she has a clear mission. She wants her work to be free of the obligations that come with the support of traditional capitalist funding sources. So instead Ellie is working on a novel idea. What if you could invest in clean, sustainable energy, like a wind turbine? I mean what if you bought and built a wind turbine? Really. And what if you could take the money you made through those investments and pay for the arts education projects that mean the most to you? That way you would not be subject to possible restrictions on your free speech, you would be free to say what you believe, what you mean, what you think is important in an age where climate change and unfettered capitalism threaten our future. Teaching artists could fund themselves through the creation of sustainable energy. There’s something I had never considered before my trip to Edinburgh.
And Ellie is serious about it. In 2015 she initiated the Radical Renewable Art + Activism Fund (the “RRAAF”). Check her out at www.ellieharrison.com.
OK, ok, so I know what you are thinking. There is no such thing as “pure money.” Even if you were to succeed with the wind turbine plan, you’d end up using fossil fuels in getting the construction materials to your site, you’d be drawing on funds that were derived from compromised investments, etc, etc., etc. And yes, you would be right. It is just what I thought as I listened to Ellie lay out her utopian plans.
But there is something that transcends all the counter-arguments, and that is plain and simple, Ellie’s joy. She can’t seem to help laughing in between every other sentence, and she readily admits all the flaws and holes in her logic. She just loves the idea of upending our ideas of the status quo, of how things should work, and she has an uncanny way of making you feel joyful about it all, too. Sometimes ebullience trumps all.
Perhaps Ellie just made me feel mischievously youthful. Perhaps I couldn’t resist her gap-toothed smile. Perhaps she forced me to question the pillars that support my own work. Perhaps Ellie is onto something. Why should we always be looking to others to support our work? What can we do to sustain our world and pursue our teaching artist projects?
It might be a simple thing to brush Ellie off as young and naïve, but I wonder, should we?