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Kenneth Jamison: Director who kept arts going in Troubles and revived Opera House

Published 21/09/2016

Stalwart: Kenneth Jamison
Stalwart: Kenneth Jamison

The former director (chief executive) of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Kenneth Jamison, has died peacefully at Belfast's City Hospital aged 85.

Roisin McDonough, the current chief executive of the organisation, paid her respects to Mr Jamison yesterday.

"Kenneth Jamison was held in the highest regard by the arts community in Northern Ireland," she said.

"His long and successful tenure at the head of the Arts Council ensured not only the survival of the arts during one of the most difficult periods in Northern Ireland's recent history, but the maintenance of a sense of normality and stability that arts and culture brought to society."

James Kenneth Jamison studied painting and silversmithing at the Belfast College of Art in the early 1950s, alongside fellow artists and students Basil Blackshaw and TP Flanagan.

He then taught art at Annadale Grammar School and for five years was an art critic for the Belfast Telegraph, as well as a regular lecturer and commentator on artistic matters on local radio and television.

He joined the Arts Council of Northern Ireland as exhibitions officer in 1962, becoming deputy director in 1966 and then director from 1968 to 1991.

During his tenure as director, the Arts Council organised the programme of cultural and entertainment events for the Ulster '71 festival, which, during a highly turbulent period of heightened civil unrest, was intended to celebrate a shared history on the jubilee of the Northern Ireland parliament.

He additionally oversaw the purchase and reopening of the Grand Opera House by the Arts Council, following extensive damage by bombing in 1974, to ensure a city centre presence for the arts at a time when many other venues had closed because of the Troubles.

Mr Jamison contributed a number of important critical essays, including, notably, The Art of Colin Middleton, published by the Arts Council in 1965, Painting and Sculpture in Causeway: The Arts in Ulster, edited by Michael Longley (1971) and A personal reminiscence by Kenneth Jamison, director of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, in A Poet's Pictures, edited by S Flanagan (1987).

Mr Jamison, who died on Sunday, is survived by his wife, Joan, his daughter, Adrienne, and his son, Michael.

The funeral service will be held at Roselawn Crematorium tomorrow at noon.

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