'Manchester has a fascinating history, artistic integrity, an intellectual legacy, great diversity of people, a lovely self-deprecating sense of humour, it’s not pretentious, and we work hard...'
What’s your name?
What do you do?
I hold the super title of ‘Programme and Engagement Director, at Cornerhouse which means I’m in charge of all of the artistic programmes. This cuts across our exhibitions, films, engagement projects (young people for example), lots of events, and much more. As well as all the team management and strategy, I curate exhibitions, produce artists’ films and commissions, distribute artists’ film, programme film seasons, talk constantly and run around after artists. There’s a lot to do, I love it and I have a fab team.
Where do you live?
I live on one of the cheaper sides of Chorlton, opposite the cemetery, near the water park where I walk Benji (my dog) twice a day. I resisted Chorlton at first, then I gave in about a year ago. Some of the stereotypes are unfair, I’ve never even been to Unicorn. I’ve lived in Oldham, Urmston, Prestwich, the city centre, Clayton, and more recently on the Rusholme/Moss Side border where I was chair of the residents association.
Tell us the story of how you ended up in Manchester.
I was born here, and without even a gap year, I have always lived in Manchester. My parents were born here. Further back leads to Ireland (of course) and the slums of Greengate, Salford. Lots of people don’t believe me because I have an accent that seems hard to pin down (I don’t know why, I sound Manc-ish to me). I’ve almost left and then didn’t, though nearly all of my family have left (for as far away as New Zealand). Anyway I’m still here with Benji, who’s also a Mancunian, he’s from the dogs’ home.
What’s great about this city?
I can gush forever about Manchester and often do, particularly if someone mentions Liverpool... Manchester has a fascinating history, artistic integrity, an intellectual legacy, great diversity of people, a lovely self-deprecating sense of humour, it’s not pretentious, and we work hard. Wherever you go people know Manchester and are positive about it (I don’t even mind if football comes up on occasion). This city has a different energy and attitude that’s not afraid to do something else, be brave and ambitious, and just get on with it. It’s small enough to be friendly and easy to get around, yet there’s great culture and lots to do. I’m not entirely sure a working class over-achiever like me would have got such amazing opportunities in London. We need to keep an eye on the young talent though and make sure they keep up the spirit.
What’s not so great?
For a city of over two million people, there are not enough visible hot single straight men and those that disagree should make themselves known. Also, on occasion there’s a little too much sentiment for ‘Madchester’ and certain people from that era. I’m not saying it wasn’t important but it’s only a small part of the story and most kids don’t care about it now. I think The Smiths will endure beyond all that, and Take That probably.
Do you have a favourite Manchester building?
There are so many amazing buildings all over the city – visiting artists often want to research them and are continually impressed by wealth of architecture styles and influences – that’s what makes the city special. Chetham’s Library is a particular gem. I also love the view from Peel Tower (Ramsbottom). Recently, with an artist, we looked into the old Salford Cinema at the top of Chapel Street out of curiosity, and ended up attending an entire evangelist Christian service.
Do you have a favourite Mancunian?
I think Dr CP Lee is a city treasure. Some others are Emmeline Pankhurst, Morrissey, Davy Jones and everyone that makes Coronation Street so great. And Friedrich Engels, though he wasn’t born here. I would like Nick Grimshaw to smash the R1 breakfast show… Mark and Lard didn’t, although their afternoon show in the early noughties was genius, I still often think about Halon Menswear...
What’s your favourite pub/bar/club/restaurant/park/venue?
I’m always in Cornerhouse bar because I love it, not about promoting it at all, it would be weird if I didn’t like it and didn’t talk to people there! I like traditional pubs like Britons and the Peveril Of The Peak, and unless it’s cocktail time, I like more relaxed bars like The Gas Lamp and Common. Myself and Benji frequent many Chorlton bars including The Parlour and The Spoon Inn. A Chinese hotpot with a big group of friends at Red‘n’Hot on Faulkner Street is the best – I’m particularly crazy about the spam and frog legs bubbling in hot chilli.
What do you think is missing from Manchester?
See the first line of ‘What’s not so great’...
If I was Mayor for a day I would …
Give myself a full 4 year term. Seriously, I’d arrange a doggie day across the centre, bring your dog to shops, pubs, restaurants, galleries, museums, promoting both adoption from the dogs home and responsible ownership.
Who else would you like to nominate to answer this questionnaire?
Dr CP Lee and Jason Singh.
Sarah is Programme and Engagement Director at Cornerhouse.