Former chair of Traverse Theatre, arts consultant and former director of the Hansard Society Scotland

Born: February 23, 1946;

Died: June 4, 2019

ANGELA Wrapson, who has died aged 73, described herself prosaically as an “arts consultant”. In fact, for over 40 years, she was the consummate leader, producer, fixer and fund-raiser for an extraordinary range of Scottish cultural bodies, including the Traverse Theatre, the Fruitmarket, Demarco and 369 galleries, the Edinburgh International Festival, the Edinburgh Book Festival, the Northlands Festival, the Scottish Sculpture Trust and StAnza poetry festival. Internationally, she curated Scotland’s first official presence at the prestigious Venice Biennale since 1897. Many of Scotland’s prominent visual artists, playwrights, poets, sculptors and musicians were enabled to create or perform thanks to Wrapson’s behind-the-scenes activity; while national institutions such as the Traverse owe their continued existence to her ability to knock aside bureaucratic obstacles or conjure necessary funding.

At the same time, Wrapson was always politically active, first as a member of the Labour Party and latterly of the SNP. One of her proudest boasts was marching in the first Women’s Liberation march in London in 1971. In 1974, she was a key member of the coordinating committee of the unofficial EIS strike that brought 30,000 young teachers out of their classrooms and paved the way for the Houghton Report and a 30 per cent increase in teachers’ pay. It was during this strike she met her future husband, George Kerevan. Later, after devolution, Wrapson would become fulltime director of the UK Hansard Society in Scotland, where she pioneered civic education in schools.

Born in war-ravaged Southampton in 1946, Wrapson joked she was a VE-night baby. She came from a lower middle class family whose long Southampton pedigree included her great uncle Frederick, a pastry cook who went down with the Titanic.

An only child, Wrapson quickly developed a penchant for going her own way. As a young teenager she spent her summers away from home – not always with parental sympathy – volunteering as a digger in the now iconic excavations of Winchester Cathedral. Fired with a lifelong passion for Anglo-Saxon culture, she went up to University College London to study English.

This was the London of the Swinging Sixties and Wrapson’s bohemian flat in Notting Hill (then considered a downmarket area) became the base for a host of young playwrights and actors who would subsequently influence British and Scottish theatre. They included David Gilmore, the West End theatre impresario, Howard Brenton, author of the notorious National Theatre production of The Romans in Britain, and Chris Parr, director of the Traverse in Edinburgh. As a result, Wrapson’s interest switched to the stage – helped by the personal attention of actor Ron Moodie, freshly famous for his stage performance as Fagin in the musical Oliver!

Wrapson’s stage career petered out after a brief (and exhausting) sojourn as front of house at Frinton Summer Theatre, the legendary incubator for English acting careers. Instead she spent time travelling in France and Pakistan, before opting to do teacher training in 1973 at Edinburgh’s Moray House, on the suggestion of the Austrian poet Erich Fried. Wrapson was not long in Edinburgh before she plunged into Scottish literary circles, becoming a regular attender at the newly-formed ‘Heretics’ group of poets, making friends with actress Dolina McLennan and the playwright Donald Campbell.

In 1979, Wrapson joined the board of the struggling Traverse Theatre, then under the direction of her London friend, Chris Parr. Parr had transformed the Traverse – situated then in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket – into a venue showing only new plays. This was a risky venture, given the Traverse’s small public subsidy and limited seating. The risk paid off as Parr and his immediate successors, Peter Lichtenfels and Jenny Killick, successfully promoted a new generation of Scottish writers - including John Byrne, Liz Lochhead and Tom McGrath.

The result helped transform Scottish culture and politics. But it nearly bankrupted the Traverse. Worse, Edinburgh City Council began to reconsider its annual grant to the Traverse, then still technically a members-only club (a device originally used to evade theatre censorship). At this moment of crisis, Wrapson stepped in as the Traverse’s first woman chair. Her theatrical and political contacts, plus her renowned ability to let nothing stand in her way, saved the day. In particular, she recruited talented Scottish architect Ben Tyndall to turn the Grassmarket venue into a public space, allowing the Traverse to shed its club status. Wrapson also initiated the project to move the Traverse to a bigger, new-build site next to the Usher Hall.

Wrapson’s engagement with the Traverse propelled her from teaching into fulltime arts education and administration. Among other activities, she launched the Edinburgh Gallery Guide, worked closely with impresario Richard Demarco, and organised exhibitions for newly graduated young artists, helping many into a fulltime career. She was also education officer for the 369 and Fruitmarket galleries and fund-raiser for Glasgow’s Celtic Connections. She created and ran the Friends of the Edinburgh Festival. But her biggest project came in 1990 with the Venice Biennale.

The original idea, conceived by Wrapson’s art critic friend Claire Henry, was to hold a small Scottish sculpture show in Venice, as an offshoot of Glasgow’s year as European City of Culture. Brought in as curator, Wrapson used her diplomatic skills to persuade the Biennale’s director, Giovanni Carandente, to enlarge the concept. Carandente offered Scotland a prestigious, open-air space in the official Biennale gardens. All Wrapson’s organisational and considerable foreign language abilities were deployed getting massive David Mach steel “trees” transported to Venice and erected in the Giardini – not easy when it was discovered 400 construction bolts had gone missing en route.

In subsequent years Wrapson developed a close working partnership with musical impresario and opera director Mary Miller, finally getting to express her theatrical talents in a commissioning role. For Stavanger’s 2008 year as European Capital of Culture, Wrapson devised a set of collaborative events involving Norwegian and Scottish performers, writers and artists; commissioned a new score for silent film from renowned harpist Catriona McKay; and commissioned the Edinburgh-based Grid Iron theatre company to produce a new play, Tryst, for performance in Stavanger.

For her last nine years, Wrapson resolutely battled cancer. This did not stop her serving as fulltime parliamentary assistant to her partner, George Kerevan, during his time as SNP MP for East Lothian. Or organising a commemoration of the first flight over Mount Everest (by two Scotsmen) which involved her scrounging an aircraft and flying two dozen assorted international journalists over the mountain, herself in the cockpit. Angela Wrapson was not a woman to let mountains stand in her way.

Angela Wrapson is survived by her husband George Kerevan.