In memory of Pauline Tambling

Our CEO, Steve Moffitt remembers and honours an exceptional friend, collaborator, thinker and strategist

11 December 2023


It is with great sadness that I write to mark the death of Pauline Tambling CBE. The many of us, and there are a lot, who worked with Pauline are slowly beginning to process that she will no longer be with us. I will miss her so much. She was incredibly important to me, both professionally and personally. I have known her and worked with her for over 25 years, and I will always be grateful for the support, guidance, and opportunities that she gave me. She was a great boss, a fabulous collaborator and an exceptional thinker and strategist. She was also a close and loyal friend.

It was always fun to work with Pauline. She was a powerhouse, a dynamo of ideas and energy. Any challenge or problem could be resolved and worked through. She was the queen of finding solutions. Always generous with her time she was also the world’s greatest listener. Her ability to retain knowledge, navigate complexity and then get stuff done was inspirational as well as being immensely practical but always clear. There are so many people in the arts sector who have benefited from the direct and indirect support of Pauline. She held and supported so many of us.

Her career started in teaching. She then moved to the Royal Opera House Education department and was one of the first Education officers in a national arts organisation. We first met in December 1996 at one of the early meetings of RESEO the European Opera Education network which she co-founded. I was at English National Opera and had just started running what was then the Baylis Programme. I was young, incredibly inexperienced in the workings of big national companies, and truthfully didn’t really know much about opera, but Pauline clocked I was a do-er and was going to make things happen and we became allies and then firm friends.

Her years at Arts Council England involved a long period of productivity and energy where she made so much happen. She was behind extensive change during the 90s and the early noughties. Not only the creation of Artsmark, Arts Award, Creative Partnerships, establishing the Clore Leadership programme, but merging the 10 regional arts board in to one organisation, simplifying the grant application process to two funds and always continuing to raise the status of work Children and Young People’s work across the funding system.

Her move to skills and employment was also productive establishing and growing CC Skills work across the 4 nations, establishing a network of FE Colleges delivering apprenticeships and building The Backstage Centre at High House Production Park. Pauline is the only person I know in the cultural sector who successfully worked across cultural education, skills and employment and policy development. She had a unique ability to see the connection between the aspiration and opportunity children are given in school, their access to opportunities in work and the changes needed in infrastructure and policy to make this happen. She had the ability to inhabit several worlds and connect them.

She was a champion and advocate of the work of A New Direction. She chaired many a seminar, delivered keynotes, visited projects, and was almost an invisible board member seeing so much of our work. I vividly remember her delight at visiting Tate Britain to see the Year 3 project. She recognised the challenge of working with so many schools on the project and was immensely proud of what we had made happen.

In our many conversations over the years we often touched upon the fact that as a sector we often don’t look back or revisit what we can learn from the past. The cultural sector is aways reinventing the wheel, facing forwards, starting again - so when Pauline approached me to ask if A New Direction would help realise a reflective piece on the 1982 Arts in Schools Gulbenkian report – it was like a perfect opportunity to revisit a seminal piece of work. It was a wonderful piece of work to be involved in – there was an urgency to it, and it all felt incredibly timely. Involving the 10 Bridges in making this piece of work happen was important to Pauline and the final thing we would do together. The report Arts in Schools, Foundations for the Future, is Pauline’s final gift to us all. Now we need to use it, work with and realise the many ideas and solutions within it.

Since her death there have been so many messages that share the significant contribution she made to the arts, cultural education, and training in this country. These messages remind us that Pauline was not only a wonderful leader who got things done and made an incredible array of programmes, initiatives and opportunities happen, but she was also an exceptional human being. I will miss my time with her. Her gentleness her wit and her presence - she was powerful. She really was a powerhouse. I will always remember her laughter - I loved making Pauline laugh. She led gracefully, often quietly, with clarity and an abundance of warmth, generosity, and kindness. She was often the most sensible voice in the room. It is hard to imagine the world without her.

My thoughts are with her family at this hugely difficult time.