What I wish to cultivate with you are pathways that lead us to honour and protect what is abiding and needs conserving, and what needs transformation.
I want to do this with you, with the courage, cooperation and the radical imagination required for these times.
– Eric Miller, Creative Producer
I have lived, worked and been nourished by social change communities in Vancouver, Canada, and London, England.
As a young person I was inspired by the social commentary and energy in the alternative and independent music of the 1980s. Excited by the DIY culture and politics of punk rock, I started the genre-defying dance band Bolero Lava. With four other women musicians, we played campuses and clubs across Canada for almost a decade.
Music led me to London, UK, where I became active in the burgeoning spoken word and poetry slam culture, which I braided into my music practice and a growing involvement in what was then called culture-led urban regeneration. This gave me the chance to work with architects and urbanists like the celebrated Sir David Adjaye and Hilary Cottom on participatory culture building initiatives for public art and educational transformation.
In the early 1990s, I co-founded performance poetry company Mannafest alongside co-artistic director Khefri “Ka’Frique” Riley. We were a collective of young Black performance poets, musicians and new media artists helping to seed the beginnings of hip-hop theatre in the UK. We created touring shows, Nottinghill Carnival masquerades, zines, editorial photoshoots, writing and performance workshops for youths, incarcerated people, elders and newcomers, and hosted various London residencies with poets from the UK, US and Caribbean. Among them were Umar bin Hassan of The Last Poets, Trinidad and Tobago’s 3 Canal and others who’ve since become legends, including Saul Williams, TS Elliot prize winner Roger Robinson, Malika Booker, Sonia Sohn and Jonzi D.
In 2000, Mannafest received a massive Arts Council England award, which supported me to earn my Masters of Philosophy in Creative Writing degree at Cardiff University with Dr. Lauri Schreyer, one of the foremost American scholars on contemporary Black poetry movements.
Over my 12 years in London, I discovered how much I love devising original work, artistic direction, teaching and facilitating change.
Since returning to Vancouver in 2004, I have cultivated a career working with artists, entrepreneurs, social activists, architects, placemakers and planners on initiatives aimed to move us toward life affirming change – from the grassroots on up through the bureaucracies of government.
In 2009, I founded Woodward’s Community Singers/Van Van Song Society. As song leader of this drop-in choir open to all voices, I invited people with plenty or little experience to share songs alongside accompanists Chris Rippin and later Martin Rielse. The choir sang for 11 years until the COVID pandemic shifted what it meant to share breath, to be music together.
With the Hollyhock Leadership Institute, I’m part of the team that co-produces and facilitates the Social Venture Institute, an ecosystem of big-hearted social entrepreneurs who connect through conferences, events and workshops to advance their businesses and organizations, as well as themselves.
I also work with Simon Fraser University as a lead instructor in the Community Capacity Building Certificate program, where community organizers come for inspiration and continued learning (read some of our students stories), and as Associate of the SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, which uses dialogue and engagement to facilitate transformative conversations and create real-world impact for society’s most pressing challenges.
I continue a performance practice in theatre, film and television, while continuing to devote myself to formal and informal training in community music, equity, urbanism and somatics.My parents arrived from Trinidad and Tobago and Austria in search of opportunity and peace on the coast of the Salish Sea, in the city currently called Vancouver. I’m grateful to call these beautiful, ancestral, occupied and unceded traditional homelands of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) nations home. On these lands, I endeavour to contribute my presence and labour in a respectful way toward repairing the harms of the past and the blessings of our future.
MAYOR’S ACHIEVEMENT AWARD, COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT, City of Vancouver, 2018
JESSIE RICHARDSON THEATRE AWARD NOMINATION, Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Lead Role, Small Theatre, 2007
MASTER OF PHILOSOPHY, Cardiff University, UK, 2005
BREAKTHROUGH AWARD, Arts Council England, 2001
THE BLACK ARTS CENTRE, Surrey, BC. Advisor, 2020-present
SFU MORRIS J. WOSK CENTRE FOR DIALOGUE, Vancouver, BC. Associate, 2018-present
SOLID STATE COMMUNITY INDUSTRIES, Surrey, BC. Youth co-operative enterprises, Advisor, 2018-present
HOGAN’S ALLEY WORKING GROUP + FOUNDING MEMBER BOARD OF DIRECTORS, Vancouver, BC. 2016 – 2019
CITY OF VANCOUVER, Black History Month Citizen’s Advisory Group, 2012-2017
CITY OF VANCOUVER, Vancouver’s 125th anniversary Advisory Group, 2011
HOLLYHOCK, Vancouver, BC. Social Change Institute Advisory Group, 2008-2010
PERFORMING ARTS LODGE (PAL), Vancouver, BC. Affordable housing for senior-aged artists, Board of Directors, 2006
Hum and Do No Harm: A short doc about my experience as a choir leader when singing became deadly and humming offered grace. (watch)
CBC Radio: “Vanessa Richards rediscovers music with Woodward’s community choir” (read).
Under the Radar: In conversation with Am Johal exploring strategies and curiosities on how to live right during the first pandemic summer. (watch | listen)
Jack Blaney Award ceremony for adrienne maree brown, which I co-designed and facilitated. (watch)
Women in Punk: In conversation with other key women figures in the Vancouver punk and indie music scene from the exhibit OG Punk at The Polygon Gallery. (watch)
We Could Be Heroes: Leading the EMMA Talks audience in participatory song before and after Rebecca Solnit’s talk. (photos)
The land, water and peoples of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) and səl̓ílwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) territories have welcomed and nurtured the potential of my newcomer family and me, who was born here. I am grateful. As I assume the responsibilities of my presence here on these shared, unsurrendered sovereign homelands, may my efforts offer something in return, in solidarity and friendship.
© Copyright Vanessa Richards 2022. All rights reserved.