The Conscious Sisters CIC is a socially engaged arts company based in Plymouth, UK which produces unique art projects working with and for the community.
The sisters love collaborative working with communities and specialise in work that explores identity, drawing from over 40 years of experience of inclusion and race work. As an organisation it aims to interrogate and raise the standard of community arts practice in the South West of the UK.
Working in a non-pretentious and accessible way is key for The Conscious Sisters CIC which believes with a passion that art can transform lives
Artist - My creative life started in fashion design in the mid 80s when I produced my own label and worked with a couturier in London, resulting in being awarded Cosmopolitan's Woman of Achievement. After a sabbatical in Madrid and London teaching English for Art & Design and immersing myself in the culture, I came back to study art at Plymouth College of Art obtaining a first class BA in Applied Arts culminating in the role of artist in residence for a year. I also obtained by PGCE at the University of Plymouth where I specialised in alternative forms of education including using the arts.
Next I relocated to our ancestral home of Wales to study architectural glass at Swansea University and was awarded a scholarship to study in Germany and Seattle resulting in an MA.
Combining my art and teaching backgrounds I redirected my energy from studio based practice to working in a socially engaged context, enjoying the challenges of supporting other people's creativity and channeling their efforts to develop and strengthen communities.
This work led to an eleven year relationship with Plymouth & Devon Racial Equality Council, which focused on combating racism/social isolation and promoting community cohesion. This gave my work in-depth understanding and experience of working with equality issues and led to a number of high profile city wide projects including Respect, Fatima's tent and Illuminate.
Many projects followed on from this work and I developed a creative relationship with a number of organisations including Plymouth City Museum & Art Gallery, Routeways, Plymouth City Council, South West Lakes Trust, Plymouth Community Homes, University of Plymouth, Plymouth Dance, Groundworks, Barbican Theatre and a range of schools and educational settings. .
Throughout my career I have continued to function as an artist outside of the socially engaged context. I have worked as a painter for over twenty years and I'm an associate member of the Penwith Society of Artists in St Ives. In 2008 I was awarded a commission to design and install eleven mosaic pillars reflecting the local landscape for 50@ Drakes Circus. Turn of the Tide remains in situ.
In 2016 I first partnered with my sister Fiona Evans to produce the Illuminate parade. This lead to the formation of the Conscious Sisters and a defined focus on identity work and forays into decolonisation.
Producer - I also started my creative life within the clothes industry as the proprietor of an award-winning British designer clothes shop in Plymouth called Circus whilst simultaneously dabbling in the world of modelling. After that I went into Poll Tax exile in Spain and spent time teaching English in Madrid, joining my sister for some cultural immersion... needless to say my bar Spanish is impeccable.
Returning to the UK I got my first gig as a radio producer at BBC Radio Devon and then a job producing social action broadcasting for BBC South West in 1994 for CSV Media. This involved work which produced content for broadcast with people who were long-term unemployed, developing a lifelong commitment to community development work. I also received an Erasmus scholarship to study tackling youth crime which saw me travel to Spain, Holland and France mostly with social workers to look at different approaches.
Whilst at the BBC I also produced an award-winning Chinese Film school and a European-wide radio campaign to raise awareness about HIV.
The BBC Special Features Unit was my next port of call working at Broadcasting House in London and producing radio, TV and events for BBC English Regions including We'll Meet Again and Surprise Yourself. Producing social action radio was very interesting and diverse, one minute shepherding in the Lake District to the next DJing in Hitchin.
My next role saw me return to Plymouth as the Roots Producer for BBC South West, this very unique role was a partnership between the BBC and Arts Council England. For seven years I developed radio, tv and events exploring African, Asian, Chinese and Caribbean art and culture in the South West. It was a real privilege working with a network of Roots Producers around the UK on diverse content for broadcast, also a lot of fun. I once had a training session with Trevor Nelson! Whilst a Rootsie I attended a personal digital production course in Newcastle with film maker Micheal Rosenblum which ignited a love of film making for me.
I went freelance in 2006 and created a new business Conscious Films when my daughter was born. My first freelance job saw me producing The Living Memory Lab for BBC South West and Plymouth & Devon Racial Equality Council. This two-year project, during which 64 people from Plymouth were given the opportunity to make a three-minute film, marked the bicentenary of the Act to Abolish Slavery and supported the Human Cargo exhibition at Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery.
I was very lucky to produce The Cultural Olympiad for Plymouth in 2012 - The World at Your Feet. This was a large-scale site specific performance and schools programme which explored Plymouth’s history as a migratory centre. This was a partnership with the Barbican Theatre, Theatre Royal Plymouth, Attik Dance, Plymouth Dance, PMZ and Plymouth City Council.
My current relationship with Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery commenced in 2013 when I became the Vital Sparks Producer. I still work part time in this role with has now evolved into the Community Development Producer for The Box.
Alongside working for the local authority, I continued to practise as a freelance producer, photographer and occasional film maker under the Conscious Films banner producing the Illuminate and Respect parades working professionally for the first time with my sister.
Then in 2017 Conscious Films became The Conscious Sisters, swiftly followed by the formation of a CIC. I continue to produce work with my sister and a growing band of fellow conspirators around the city, across the UK and globally. Our sisterhood is growing. What this space.
Director - It's fair to say that I am eclectic when it comes to art and craft. Anything from making installations for Art University Plymouth, working in the community building large props for parades such as Respect and Illuminate, to sewing socially engaged banners or quilts. I can turn my hand to anything and I am definitely at my happiest when I am being creative.
Curiously, I never explored my creative side until I started work at Plymouth and Devon Racial Equality Council (PDREC) 20 years ago.
PDREC has always used art and craft as an educational activity and restorative tool. As an engagement device to foster and create conversations about race, equality and diversity.
Educationally it does provide a unique opportunity for people to learn about other cultures. Restorative art and craft is well documented as an important factor which improves mental health and wellbeing. This has been instrumental in the various support groups we have run over the years.
Post-Brexit and post-pandemic and with encouragement from The Conscious Sisters I took a leap of faith and enrolled on a four-year extended BA in fine arts. I am into my second year and relish being around so many inventive minds. It has given me renewed energy and it will give me solid grounding to develop myself as an artist.
Karen and Fiona have always supported the work of PDREC and for many years been the creative directors for the flagship event for our organisation -Plymouth Respect.
To this end I know that we all have similar values, a strong sense of social justice, equality and diversity. Having worked alongside The Conscious Sisters for many a year, I know that these core values are at the very heart of what they do.
For much of my adult life I have worked in the community. Spending fifteen
years in New Zealand where my interest in community work developed
and a focus on the rights of indigenous communities. This work increased my understanding of the negative impact of colonisation and its legacy. How it has caused widespread economic, social and individual inequalities. Inequality is both a global and national concern and needs to be addressed on several fronts.
The need to address inequality is both embedded in our psyche and at
forefront of the work we do. The Conscious Sisters work to address these inequalities through inclusive practice, education, participation and collaboration.
I am neurodivergent with dyslexia which has its challenges. It also has its benefits. I'm resourceful, imaginative and hands-on and it comes as no surprise that I am attracted to a career in the art sector.
I have worked with The Conscious Sisters for over 20 years and it would be fair to say that they have been an inspiration and a part of my creative journey.
I'm delighted to have been invited to join the creative team and I know together we will inspire, nurture, create stronger communities and leave a lasting legacy of work.
Vanessa sister number 3!