Vanessa Bone: an appreciation

Jonathan Ives remembers a leading light of the cultural sector and an enthusiastic supporter of The Leisure Review.

Vanessa: a trademark smile

News of Vanessa’s death came from her husband, David Long, on 12 November. His e-mail confirmed that Vanessa had died in the early hours of the previous day. She had suffered a stroke while receiving in-patient care for the steadily advancing cancer she had been living with for the last ten years. Having recently returned from a very enjoyable family holiday in Andalucia, Vanessa’s decline had been swift and she died peacefully having spent time with her family.

Vanessa’s funeral, held on 24 November at Eltham Crematorium, was filled with family, friends and colleagues, many of whom had been shocked by her sudden departure. For some of us who had got to know Vanessa latterly (in my case through her work with the Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management but more recently as a colleague in a number of Creative Culture projects and as a co-conspirator at the John Wilkes Society Dining Club) we learned new things about her but the facets of her character – her intelligence, her integrity, her passion and her enormous sense of fun – were known to anyone who had spent more than a few minutes in her company. The order of service for the humanist ceremony included a montage of photographs from all stages of Vanessa’s life, depicting her as a junior ballerina, student, cultural activist, wife, mother and grandmother. The image of Vanessa behind the wheel of a white Golf GTi hinted at her reputation, gained early in her motoring career, as an enthusiastic and feisty driver but all the photographs showed her with the broad smile that was her trademark.

Born on 14 November 1950, Vanessa was brought up in Newcastle and studied French and Spanish at Newcastle University. As her brother Adrian recalled, she had been a successful and determined student. He had learned early on that it was far easier to let his sister win at board games and accept with good grace her summation of his own educational abilities as those of “an ignorant scientist”. However, he had cause to acknowledge Vanessa’s compassionate nature when, having discovered his inability to master languages, she quietly did his German homework for the next two years.

Having begun a career in education, Vanessa moved into the world of arts management. She was always proud of her time running the York Early Music Festival and a contemporary art gallery in the city at the outset of her career. These roles were followed by posts with Trafford, Richmond (where she named her house ‘Seaview’), Cumbria, the London Arts Board and South East Arts. This last job saw her starting to work on cross-Channel arts initiatives, even appearing on French radio and television, an activity she then continued as she became a freelance consultant with a growing passion for the role of the arts and architecture in regeneration. However, Vanessa herself was not always sure that her style of communication was fully appreciated on one side of La Manche: “I always managed the French better than the Kentish,” she said.

In 2000 Vanessa founded the consultancy partnership Creative Cultures with Brian Mitchell. As Brian recalled, Vanessa had been adamant that their aim should be “to earn a living but with work that had to be interesting and of value”, something with which he was happy to concur. Before long Vanessa had authored a guide to cultural strategies in the ILAM ‘101 Ways’ series and persuaded the Department for Culture, Media and Sport that they should commission Creative Cultures to produce a full-scale guide on cultural planning. Her work on schemes around the country ensured that numerous major arts projects came to fruition to the benefit of the individuals, communities and regions they served. Brian remembered Vanessa as a fearless communicator and, above all, a joy to work with.

Her passion for the arts led her to lend her efforts to the Chartered Institute for Water and Environmental Management’s initiative to develop links between artists, scientists and engineers to communicate messages on the environment and climate change. As Nick Reeves, CIWEM’s chief executive, explained, Vanessa managed to achieve a great deal in a very short time: “In 2007 I approached Vanessa asked if she'd be willing to help set up and chair a group of arts community representatives, environmental practitioners and engineers who would advise and help CIWEM in this new venture. She readily agreed but, typically, not until I had been subjected to some forensic questioning and not until she was certain of CIWEM's commitment and intent. With Vanessa's help we brought together some big names addressing big issues and we haven't looked back since. She has laid the foundations for something very important that will have wider resonance in time.”

David revealed that Vanessa had recently been in mock high dudgeon that her son, Anthony, now thirteen, had leapt ahead of her in the family height chart, although she had conceded that she had been expecting it for some time. For David, Anthony and Howard, Vanessa’s son from her first marriage, this small package will leave a very big hole. We will all miss her very much.

Jonathan Ives is the editor of The Leisure Review.


The Leisure Review, December 2008

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“Vanessa's intelligence, her integrity, her passion and her enormous sense of fun – were known to anyone who had spent more than a few minutes in her company”

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