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Pauline Tambling, who played a huge role in the arts education and training world for four decades, has died. Her friend and colleague Sally Bacon pays tribute to her. 

Image of Pauline Tambling

Pauline worked in the arts and creative industries from 1983, having started her career as a music teacher in 1976. On track for a school leadership role, she changed direction and was one of the first beneficiaries of The Arts in Schools report (Gulbenkian 1982) recommendations that cultural organisations create schools liaison posts. She became the first Education Officer at the Royal Opera House in 1983. 

She created the department, becoming Head of Education and running a comprehensive programme of workshops and main stage performances for schools, as well as courses for teachers and international exchanges. The seminal Write an Opera scheme she created is still going, as is Reseo, a European network of opera house education departments – now a network for arts education and creative learning with a focus on opera, music and dance – which she co-founded in partnership with the Paris Opera and the opera house in Brussels. 

A lifetime of service to education and training in the cultural sector

Throughout her career she was a trailblazer. When she left Covent Garden in 1997, she was one of the first learning leaders to make the transition to senior strategic national leadership, joining the Arts Council of England. She was initially appointed Director of Education and Training and she went on to work in various senior roles with a wide range of responsibilities, finally as Executive Director, Development. 

She was the prime mover behind several major education and training initiatives, including Creative Partnerships, the £130m scheme to engage young people in schools with creative practitioners and cultural organisations. She was also responsible for setting up the research and development department, managed the merger of the then Arts Council of England with the ten independent regional arts associations, and led the capital and stabilisation teams.

As her remit included training, she joined the Clore Duffield working group that created the Clore Leadership programme in 2002, working closely with me, Robert Hewison and John Holden to build the programme before Chris Smith was appointed to run it. When it launched in 2003, she was a founding board member and remained closely involved until she stepped down in 2017. 

In 2007, she became Chief Operating Officer of Creative & Cultural Skills and, soon after, joint CEO and Managing Director of the National Skills Academy, a network of Further Education colleges working with the creative industries. She was part of creating High House Production Park, a regeneration project in Thurrock where she was responsible for the building and fundraising of The Backstage Centre - a training and rehearsal space co-located with the Royal Opera House’s production and costume making workshops. It was during this period Pauline was awarded a CBE in the 2014 Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to education and training in the cultural sector.

Sharing expertise though multiple non-executive roles

Pauline had lived with cancer since 2017. After retiring from CCSkills in 2018, she remained active in the arts and education sectors, writing academic articles, mentoring, and holding many non-executive roles. She had been Chair of Shape, a governor of the University of the Creative Arts, an editorial board member of Cultural Trends, a member of the Arts for a Healing and Learning Environment committee at St George’s NHS Trust in South London, and a trustee of Shakespeare Schools Festival. 

She was also a trustee of the Roundhouse where she chaired the committee which oversaw the development of their new building. She sat on the boards of Creative Lives, the Fashion Retail Academy, and Masterclass Theatre Trust. She was closely involved with the Cultural Learning Alliance as an Advisory Panel member, having been on the steering group which established the Alliance. Children’s Art Day was another of Pauline’s ideas that took hold and endures in another iteration today, run by Engage. 

Her career came full circle at the close of 2021 when she had the idea of revisiting the seminal 1982 The Arts in Schools report, forty years after it had launched her career in the arts. We approached the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation together. They embraced the idea and provided funding, in partnership with A New Direction, to examine the progress, setbacks and challenges of the past four decades. 

The Arts in Schools: Foundations for the Future could not have been a more perfect project for Pauline, whose personal archive, network, experience and recollections of all that had happened over those four decades were so critical to the initiative. 

Final main act of her career

Pauline still had her much thumbed and heavily annotated copy from 1982 to hand. Neither of us had fully anticipated the scale of the task, but she approached it with her characteristic energy, determination, wisdom, clarity and good humour. It proved to be the final main act of her career, and she stayed well enough to speak at the report’s launch and to see its recommendations form the basis of a series of arts education manifesto asks for the next government. 

She was working until the end, writing a history of the learning programme at the Royal Opera House, and completing articles for the Cultural Learning Alliance and Arts Professional on CCSkills in her final days. It was typical of Pauline that she reflected on the organisation’s achievements, but cut to the chase in her clear-sightedness about what more needs to be done. 

Fittingly, given her passionate and steadfast commitment to children and young people throughout her career, the room named for her earlier this year at the Roundhouse is within its new space for young people, Roundhouse Works. 

Pauline can take credit for so many people having a career in the arts and for making so many positive things happen in the sector. She was incredibly generous in offering her advice and counsel, was an unfailingly wise guiding light in the arts education and training world, and a brilliant colleague and friend.

Pauline Tambling CBE (1955-2023)

Sally Bacon OBE is a consultant, funder and trustee in the arts sector.

Together with Pauline, Sally Bacon OBE is Co-Author of The Arts in Schools: Foundations for the Future, and is Co-Chair of the Cultural Learning Alliance.

Link to Author(s): 
Sally Bacon
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I had the pleasure (and it was a pleasure) of working with Pauline both at Arts Council England and also at Creative & Cultural Skills where we worked closely in setting up the National Skills Academy as well as The Backstage Centre in Purfleet. During all this time (and more recently over coffee and catch ups) I found her to be thoughtful, insightful and genuinely committed to making a difference. Which she did. In theses times when the arts have to few quality leaders, Pauline will be sorely missed.

What an enormous loss to the sector; what an incredible legacy. I am so sad that I'll never again have the pleasure of her wisdom, generosity and loveliness. RIP Pauline and thank you.