Obituary / Jenny Deves, arts advocate

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MEMBERS of the arts community in Canberra were saddened to hear of the death of Jenny Deves last week. She was always passionate about the arts, whether it was music, theatre or craft and design. 

Jenny Deves

From 1970 she studied music at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music gaining an Associate Diploma of Music in 1976. In 1983 she studied print, design and typography at the Sydney College of Technical and Further Education and achieved a Graduate Diploma in Arts Management from the Queensland University of Technology in 1997. She also completed an Executive Certificate of Event Management and Marketing in 1999 at the University of Technology, Sydney.

Jenny worked as the deputy administrator at the National Institute of Dramatic Arts from 1985 to 1993, when she and her then partner moved to Canberra as they thought this would be a better place to bring up their children.

In 1994, Jenny took up the position of executive director of Craft ACT, moving apparently seamlessly from the performing arts to the visual arts. Her driving force and commitment to the potential quality and value of the craft sector revived a declining organisation, turning it into a highly recognised professional one.

Jenny initiated Craft ACT’s move to its present location in the city, giving the organisation a higher profile. This sounds as though it was easy, but there were many years of protracted negotiations with the government that were disruptive to the plans and programs of the organisation. She presented a business case that could not be refuted.

During this time, she was instrumental in working with Klaus Moje and others in getting up the first feasibility study for what became the Canberra Glassworks.

In 2000, Jenny suffered a cerebral haemorrhage. After a year in hospital and recuperation, in 2003 she began volunteering at Craft Australia and then began paid part time work completing several projects. One of these was the peer reviewed journal “Craft + Design Enquiry”. Later she worked as its managing editor when the journal was given a home at the ANU School of Art. She was still there when its last issue was published in 2015.

Jenny was committed to assisting artists by creating opportunities for them behind the scenes. She resurrected the Accredited Professional Members scheme of Craft ACT, giving members a higher profile in the organisation and acknowledging their local, national and international experience and standing. She had strong support for all that she undertook from the management board and members.

Recovering from her illness was a long and slow journey, taking extraordinary determination and tenacity and loving support and encouragement from her many friends, family and her partner Michelle. The late Robert Foster recognised her resolve, giving her a purple heart brooch from his body of work for her courage.

Due to her consummate networking skills, Jenny joined various board and organisations, giving them the benefits of her advocacy and management skills, knowledge and experience. She was deputy convenor and then convenor of the Canberra Theatre Centre Advisory Committee, served on the ACT Cultural Council and was involved in many related organisations that serve the crafts, the museum and heritage sectors.

Jenny Deves was held in high regard and affection by artists around the country for all her efforts on their behalf. She was seen regularly, with Michelle by her side, at exhibition openings, performances and concerts. She was born in 1956 and died on May 9, 2017 in Canberra.  

Jenny Deves is survived by her children, Jack and Claudia, and her devoted partner Michelle Frost.

Canberra and the craft scene has lost a great advocate, a woman of passion and courage and are thankful for knowing her.

Jenny Deves, September 22, 1956 – May 9, 2017. 

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