CHEAD Statement: Professor Elaine Thomas CBE

January 13, 2019

CHEAD Trustees are shocked and saddened to learn of the recent death of Professor Elaine Thomas CBE.

Elaine Thomas studied painting at Manchester Polytechnic before taking up a post as Fine Art lecturer at the Ulster Polytechnic in 1973. She remained in Northern Ireland for 23 years, continuing her art practice alongside her career in Higher Education. She became Head of the Department of Fine Art at the University of Ulster in 1986 and Dean of the Faculty of Art and Design and Professor of Fine Art in 1990.

During her time in Northern Ireland, she held solo exhibitions at the Arts Council Gallery, Belfast (1975), the Orchard Gallery, Londonderry (1980) and the Art and Research Exchange, Belfast (1985).

In 1996, she took up the post of Director of the School of Cultural Studies at Sheffield Hallam University. Professor Elaine Thomas CBE was originally appointed as the director of the Surrey Institute of Art and Design on January in 2000 and was named rector of the University College for the Creative Arts upon the merger of Surrey Institute with the Kent Institute of Art & Design. Around this time Elaine held the role of Chair of the Council for Higher Education in Art and Design (CHEAD).

In her role as Vice Chancellor of the University for the Creative Arts, she spearheaded the transformation of the institution from a University College to University status in 2008 creating the UK’s first specialist creative arts university and making Epsom, Farnham, Maidstone and Rochester university towns.

In 2011, she was awarded a CBE for her services to Higher Education and made Emeritus Professor of UCA.

Retiring in 2011, she began to fulfil her plan to return to creative practice and held solo exhibitions at the University for the Creative Arts, Farnham, in the Elaine Thomas Library (2013), the According to McGee Gallery in York (2014, 2016 and 2017 ) and the Link Gallery, University of Winchester (2014).

As a ground breaking senior female academic – first as Dean and then as a Vice Chancellor – Elaine incredibly generous in providing mentoring and leadership development to younger academics during her time as Chair of CHEAD and later to the CHEAD Leadership Programme.


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