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Interview with Envision Festival Founder, Stephen Brooks

January 13, 2016 - by Molly Sinclair

While preparing for Costa Rica's beautiful Envision Festival, an adventure of music, art, yoga, workshops, and so much more, I got the chance to speak with one of the festival's founders, Stephen Brooks. Stephen talks a mile a minute, but it makes sense why - there is so much to be passionate about.

At the core of this festival is a genuine, powerful effort and growing movement towards humanity's roots: creating a true community and being environmentally sustainable. While other events seek to throw the grandest party, Envision Festival is working year-round to change the world through education and responsible practices - both ecologically and socially.

From Stephen's personal expertise in permaculture, to the internal transformations that attendees at Envision experience, to the phenomenal retreats that are offered in the weeks before and after the festival, we discussed it all.

Photo by Miles Najera

Envision has a strong role in supporting the environment. How did you get involved in sustainability in Costa Rica?

I've been living in Costa Rica for about 21 years. I've watched a playground of indigeneous children get sprayed by a Chiquita Banana cropduster and literally was stopped in my tracks. I decided I wanted to educate other young people by doing a student tour company to Costa Rica - basically showing them not only how beautiful Costa Rica was but also the reality of how messed up it was: the macroagricultural business, the rainforest destruction. And then I wanted to show solutions.

I started a farm on the Caribbean side called Punta Mona 21 years ago. It's an off-the-grid environmental educational center. I've been collecting plants, and teaching permaculture and living permaculture for decades.

How was Envision created? What was the goal behind the festival?

I've been going to Burning Man for 13 of the last 15 years, so that was super influential for me then. Every year I sponsor a Costa Rican friend of mine to come to Burning Man, just because I wanted them to experience it. I just think the potential of human creativity - what is possible - is incredible. I think Burning Man is such a great example because it's so extreme. The environment is so harsh; it's so nonhospitable to doing anything like this, yet, such magic is created.

So, rather than trying to bring all my Costa Rican friends to Burning Man, I thought, why not bring a piece of Burning Man to Costa Rica? My friends and I at the time would throw festival-style weddings, and it was really fun. We had all these amazing bands and it was like, yeah let's do more of this! Another friend of mine owned a club / restaurant in Dominical, and he was also talking to other people about doing Envision, so we were all apart of it. It's a big undertaking and so the whole crew of us came together.

We all had our goals. For me personally it wasn't to throw a big party. It was to create an experience that is transformational. Our goal was to create the experience to inspire. In 1995 I started bringing kids down to Costa Rica so they would go back and never be the same - dedicated to making the world better.

Photo by Miles Najera

What kind of crowd attends Envision in Costa Rica?

It's really mixed. You definitely get your kind of raver, U.S., molly-gulping festival goer, which I'm not that into. But you also get that really conscious group of people who are seeking a different way to be, who are seeking their tribe. That's what's happening so much at Envision, so many people coming together and starting to seek land together and starting to start projects together. For me, that's what's inspiring.

There's people from all over the world. I sense about 35% Costa Rican, about 30% American, and the rest mixed.

Have you faced any challenges in throwing the event, whether culturally, environmentally, logistically or other?

Tons. It's super challenging, especially off-the-grid in a third world country. Organizing a festival is like disaster relief. Every second is so freaking intense. There's 1200 things going on - everything is riding on you. It's a really large undertaking.

What you also have to accept is that you truly can't please everybody. You're going to have your haters out there. There was some stupid petition that was saying Envision has all this noise that harms wildlife and a negative environmental impact, and then meanwhile we're being awarded as one of the most ecological festivals in the world. We have one of the largest events using composting toilets. We have no porta potties. Everything is pretty much 100% organic. We have no disposable anything in our food area - no disposable cups, no plates, no forks. All our generators run on bio-diesel, which is the first Costa Rican festival to do that. So it's like, we're really trying to raise the bar in the way we do things. Of course bringing 6,000 people together is going to have an impact. But we're really doing everything we can to have the minimal.

Also, I organize all the Give Back days - last year before Envision we went to 3 different schools. We had incredible artists painting murals, like Amanda Sage and Chris Dyer, and then we put in gardens and orchards and music and playing with the kids. We had about 200 volunteers between the 3 schools, it was incredible. We've even hired a third party crew that can help us figure out, what can we do better for the town? How can we be more supportive? What can we do to be more helpful? We're really, really dedicated.

Photo by Miles Najera

Envision provides a getaway to reflect and focus on improving ourselves. In your opinion, what is the biggest thing Western culture can improve on right now?

I think we just have to figure out, What kind of world are we voting for? And that's really through our purchasing habits. What kind of food are we buying? Where's it coming from? What kind of crap are we buying at Target or Walmart? How can we replace those purchases with purchases that actually make the world better, with purchases that support small businesses, or that support artisans?

At Envision I organize all the food court and the craft vending, and we're so intentional about who we take. Most of the food vending are from communities down here. All of their menus have to be approved beforehand. We try to help everybody to source their organic food if they can't already source it themselves. With the crafts as well, it's all small-producing shops and artisans. We don't have anything from China, for example.

And then the other thing we can improve on is... when you wake up in the morning, just being the nicest you've ever been. And I think Envision truly fosters that, you know? You walk through Envision and you feel something different. You feel that everyone is so much nicer.

What do you want festival attendees to take away most from the experience?

I want people to take a turn in their life. One thing is to find their tribe. The sooner you can find your dream life and who you want to create it, the more direct you can go there. That's kind of what we want to extract from people and help people to realize.

Coming to a festival and place like this, it's so inspiring about how things could be, so all of a sudden it's like, wait a minute - why am I working at a job that I hate? Why am I living a life where I'm not happy? Why am I surrounded by people who are not making me full? If you come to Envision, so much is realized. It's like, wait - I could be doing so much more.

So my goal is that it really goes deep, and that it's not just "a weekend thing" for people. It's really a game changer.

What's new at Envision in 2016?

This year we started Envision Education and we have all these retreats and workshops pre- and post- Envision that are incredible . They've really incorporated the ideals of Envision with music, art, focusing on organic food, post Envision detox.

We're doing a workshop at our farm in Punta Mona which is a clinical with an herbalist named 7 Song. He basically runs all of the first aid at the Rainbow Gathering, so he sees everything. He's teaching a workshop at our farm and everybody that's part of the workshop comes to Envision and works at the clinic. My wife, Sarah Wu, is an herbalist and she started this thing called the Village Witches which is a Healing Sanctuary. We have a medic and an herbal medic and they're merging. If you're sick you can go to either one, it's together this year.

We're also offering a workshop called Embody that's the week before and has a bunch of performers from Envision teaching dance, and there's live music.

Additionally, we're bringing David Wolfe this year, the famous raw foodist from san Diego. We're doing an on-site event with him called Shamanik Yoga and Longevity Now.

The week after Envision we have organized a conference called Medicines from the Edge, a tropical herbal convergence, March 3-6th.

At Punta Mona a month later we're doing the Jungle Camp, a transformational summer camp for adults from April 2-6th.


Although not a part of our interview, I watched a dialogue between Stephen and Daniel Pinchbeck, an author and pioneer of global change whose latest focus has been towards regenerative society. I'll leave you with Stephen's words which I found most compelling, particularly towards our Western society:

"I often see there's so much self help and so many personal growth things going on, but can we really find enlightenment and still live in these old ways? Can we still live how we're living? Can we still eat what we're eating? Can we still drink how we're drinking? Can we still get around the way we're getting around and still find this enlightenement we're seeking? I mean, I really feel like we can't. There's all these people striving to wake up. It's hard to wake up when we live in this system that's broken. It's totally broken. And I find just this common thread - people seeking something. And I really feel what people are seeking is just strong community. Living in a place where you truly get along with your neighbors, where people really care about each other, where the food is healthy, you know, it's amazing how hard people have to work and how much people have to earn to live the way that's so simple."

Watch the rest of the inspiring dialogue between Pinchbeck and Brooks:

Watch Stephen Brooks' Tedx Talk at Burning Man:

Important Links

Envision Festival - February 25-28, 2016

Medicines from the Edge: A Tropical Herbal Convergence - March 3-6, 2016

The Punta Mona Center for Regenerative Design and Botanical Studies

To view the full Envision LINEUP and PREVIEW, read my article here.

--Molly Reports

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