By the time Sarah Perks was 24, she was working at the independent cinema and gallery as an education officer, later rising to artistic director of visual art and film six years ago.
Now at 37, she is about to take on her biggest challenge yet as artistic director of visual art at ‘Home’. This is Cornerhouse’s more ambitious successor, being created via a merger with the Library Theatre Company. The new art location is due to open next April, this will be a £25m cultural centre and the biggest arts complex outside London, with two theatres, five cinema screens and a large gallery.
Just five minutes walk from the Cornerhouse, opposite the site of the former Hacienda nightclub, the new venue is the brainchild of Manchester city council, and part of Greater Manchester’s attempt to become a global centre for arts, media, science and sports. It lines up alongside Salford’s Media City, independent TV studios the Sharp and Space projects.
“I think it’s vital we don’t do blockbuster shows,” Perks said. “Manchester Art Gallery and the Whitworth are doing a very good job of that already. That’s not the sort of work I’m interested in anyway. I feel like our work should be in the here and now. It’s vital we keep alive the independent spirit of the Cornerhouse. I want to put on work that is accessible and challenging – the two things don’t exist in a dichotomy.” Perks told the Guardian.
Perks developed an interest in art from an early age after her mother, who is a science fiction author, took her to see the pre-Raphaelites at Manchester Art Gallery and plays at the Royal Exchange. Perks told the Guardian that she is relentless in her pursuit of artists that she admires, wooing them for years if she really wants them (“I’m a very patient person – you have to be.”). She’s is currently trying to lure Texan video artist Ryan Trecartin, (“perhaps against my better judgment”) experiment at the new location.
Curating in Manchester is could be seen as good training for one of the art world’s biggest jobs and Perks’ dream of one day running Documenta in Germany. “If you can do it here, you can do it anywhere,” said Perks: “ I think Manchester audiences up for it, but they are really varied – you get people stumbling in by mistake as well as those who are really clued-up aficionados. You get an accidental audience here, whereas if you do performance art in London it would be very much the visual art crowd.” She told the Guardian.
Perks continued: “People might not speak up so much in London, maybe because they don’t have that same passionate feeling of belonging, whereas audiences here will shout at me or stop me in the bar – nine times out of 10 because they enjoyed something, but also to tell me if they think something’s crap or to ask ‘what’s this performance art nonsense?’ I don’t mind. You have to listen and take it and talk to people otherwise you live in a bubble and are led by reviews in Frieze magazine.”