Obituary – Dr Anna Upchurch

Dr Anna Upchurch was a cultural policy academic, who most recently worked in the School of Performance and Cultural Industries at the University of Leeds.

Anna was born in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1957. She worked for many years in arts management, policy and communications in the USA, before moving to the UK, where she spent the last 15 years of her life.

While serving as Director of Communications for the Department of Theater Studies at Duke University, Anna made an immeasurable impact on friends and colleagues. Her warmth, intellect, keen instincts, and professionalism made all who had the pleasure of working with her feel valued and supported. As John Clum, Professor Emeritus and former Chair of Theater Studies commented, “Anna was brilliant, charming and passionate about her work.” Anna first served as a public relations and communications consultant for the department’s productions, and everyone was thrilled when she agreed to join the staff full-time. Anna never drew attention to herself yet so often was the one in the room making everyone else feel at ease, no matter the level of pressure.

Anna was an experienced marketing professional, having served as Communications Officer with the North Carolina Museum of Art, and a natural scholar and teacher. Her curiosity and passion drove her to pursue a Masters of Arts in Liberal Studies at Duke, where she ignited her interest in the Bloomsbury Group and then progressed on to a PhD. While on the MLS programme, Anna easily connected with colleagues from all across the campus, then, as was her style, she began connecting people to one another. She worked with a faculty group that evaluated interdisciplinary research and curricular possibilities in arts management and cultural policy; in fact, she was the instigator of the group and let everyone else believe it was their idea.

Anna first visited the Warwick University campus in 2001 for an interview with her prospective PhD supervisor, Oliver Bennett, following her application to the PhD programme at Warwick’s Centre for Cultural Policy Studies. It was during this visit that Anna first met Ele Belfiore, then a PhD student, who was to become her closest friend and collaborator. Shortly after that first visit, Anna made the brave decision to move to the UK to pursue her research ambition: as a passionate cultural professional and supporter of the arts, Anna wanted to explore the arts council model of support of the arts, and how it was applied in some of the countries it was exported to: Canada and the USA. During her time at Warwick, Anna endeared herself to both staff and fellow PhD students, many of whom soon became good friends. Anna was the life force of the Warwick PhD student group, organising many of its academic and social activities. Towards the end of her studies, Anna began teaching at the Centre, where she worked for a year as Teaching Fellow, working alongside Dr Jonathan Vickery on his MA in Design and Media Communication. It was then that it became obvious what a gifted teacher Anna was, and how well liked she was by colleague and students alike. She will be greatly missed by both Warwick staff and alumni.

In September 2009, Anna was appointed at the University of Leeds, where she worked for over seven years in the School of Performance and Cultural Industries as a Lecturer in Creative Industries and later in Cultural Policy. From February 2015 until her illness in October 2016, Anna successfully led the School’s successful MA in Culture, Creativity and Entrepreneurship, developing the number of students and delivering an exceptional student experience. During this time, Anna also worked hard to develop the School’s internationalisation strategy by fostering links and partnership agreements in Taiwan, Denmark and the Czech Republic. She also made an invaluable contribution towards the national Arts Fundraising and Philanthropy Programme, inculcating in students a deep understanding of the history and politics of philanthropy whilst passionately making the case for the arts council model of arm’s length public funding for the arts.

As an experienced PhD supervisor, Anna supported over ten postgraduate researchers in the course of her career at Leeds. As one of her PhD candidates expressed it: “Anna was a wonderful supervisor and such a lovely, big hearted person. This is an incredible loss, both to the faculty and to all the people that knew her. Anna taught me so much and always went over and above to provide me with opportunities and such like, I couldn’t have wished for a better supervisor.” Having taught and supervised for a number of years with Anna, we can certainly attest to her genuine care, empathy and dedication to careful and meaningful research.

This dedication to research recently led to her appointment as co-editor (alongside Ele Belfiore) of the new Palgrave Macmillan book series, New Directions in Cultural Policy Research. Both within and beyond the University of Leeds, Anna’s research as an internationally respected Cultural Policy Studies scholar made a significant impact. As our Leeds colleague and Professor of Cultural Policy, Kate Oakley, explains: “Anna’s work brought a depth of historical scholarship to the study of cultural policy that it had hitherto lacked. Her work on institutions, particularly the Arts Council, offers a model of how such work can inform contemporary debates. Her transnational perspective and links to the American arts sector offered a valued set of insights, which she brought to her recent book defending the humanities beyond impact and beyond markets.” It is perhaps a cruel twist of fate that saw Anna’s latest book, The Origins of the Arts Council Movement: Philanthropy and Policy. (Palgrave Macmillan), come out the day before her death. This significant contribution to the cultural policy literature exemplifies Anna’s painstaking and socio-historical approach to research and provides a comprehensive intellectual analysis of arts advocacy, funding and philanthropy, in both the public and private domains. In light of this current funding crisis, rarely has a cultural policy book been so timely.

Outside of work, Anna loved to exchange gossip over half a pint of real ale, and on really special occasions, she generally went for a Classic Manhattan. She was proud to have recently passed her UK driving test, and put her driving skills to great effect to discover the beautiful countryside of Northern England and to drive to craft fairs – another passion.

Anna died in hospital on 23rd November after a sudden diagnosis of cancer. She leaves behind her partner, Gerry, her mother, sister, brother, sister-in-law, two nieces and a great-niece, alongside many friends and colleagues (past and present) in the USA and in her adopted home in the UK. She will be very sorely missed.