Jane Attenborough

Dynamic arts administrator
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The Independent Online

Jane Attenborough's commitment to widening access to the arts was manifest in a career spanning over 25 years. She had the rare ability to combine great enthusiasm and passion with impressive administrative skills and acute sensitivity to the needs of artists and audiences.

Jane Mary Attenborough, arts administrator: born London 30 September 1955; Dance Liaison Officer, Ballet Rambert 1979-80, Press and Public Relations Officer 1980-84; Administrator, then Executive Director, National Organisation for Dance and Mime (later Dance UK) 1985-2000; Arts Manager, Paul Hamlyn Foundation 2000-04; married 1982 Michael Holland (one son, one daughter, and one daughter deceased); died Khao Lak, Thailand 26 December 2004.

Jane Attenborough's commitment to widening access to the arts was manifest in a career spanning over 25 years. She had the rare ability to combine great enthusiasm and passion with impressive administrative skills and acute sensitivity to the needs of artists and audiences.

Born in London in 1955, she was the elder daughter of the actor and film director Richard Attenborough (later Lord Attenborough) and his wife, the actress Sheila Sim. Having been brought up surrounded by creative people, all of whom believed in the concept of public service of one sort or another, she recognised early on that many people did not have the opportunity to participate in the arts and much of her career was spent addressing this concern.

After graduating from Sussex University in 1977 with a degree in Sociology, her first job was as overseas membership secretary at the Royal Academy of Dance, but after only a few months she joined the Arts Council of Great Britain to work on the national touring programme, where she became initially my assistant and subsequently my very good friend.

It was clear that she wasn't going to remain in a supporting role for long and in 1979 she joined Ballet Rambert as Dance Liaison Officer. There she extended the company's embryonic education programme beyond traditional schools activities to encompass events in the community, before she was promoted to Press and Public Relations Officer. Having taken some time out to raise a family she was persuaded to become administrator of the National Organisation for Dance and Mime, where she led its transformation from a small lobbying group to a significant organisation with authority and impact.

As Executive Director of what became known as Dance UK, Attenborough deployed her very considerable range of managerial, fund-raising and personal skills to contribute to the promotion of the dance sector and improve conditions for dancers. One of the many initiatives that she was instrumental in developing was the groundbreaking Healthier Dancer Programme; its ongoing contribution to dancers' health, fitness and injury prevention is one of Attenborough's many legacies to the dance community.

She was also involved in the establishment in 1987 of the Digital Dance Awards, which for seven years enabled choreographers and companies to create new works that otherwise would have been beyond their means.

In early 2000 Attenborough was appointed Arts Manager of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, where she was involved in dozens of innovative creative and educational projects, introducing many thousands of people, most of whom were young or "at risk", to the arts; and she became increasingly engaged in the foundation's support for work in prisons. She impressed trustees, colleagues and arts organisations with her ability to be both highly focused and objective.

Jane Attenborough had great charm and an ability to put people from all sorts of backgrounds at their ease. She was unassuming but dynamic and energetic, never giving less than total commitment to anything she attempted. In addition to her innate wisdom and generosity, she had an infectious sense of humour and was huge fun to work with.

She had many interests outside her profession, but first and foremost was her tireless dedication and devotion to her beloved husband, Michael Holland, and children, Sam, Alice and Lucy.

Several people who knew Jane well have remarked that it would have taken something as devastating as the tsunami, which claimed her life and that of her younger daughter Lucy and mother-in-law, Jane Holland, to extinguish such a vital personality. The very large number of friends and colleagues who attended the memorial service at Southwark Cathedral last month attest to the impact Jane Attenborough had on those who were privileged to know her.

Jodi Myers

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