'Sheffield has so many creative people trying to do new things': New artistic director joins Site Gallery

A Sheffield art gallery that is trebling in size with a £2.7 million expansion has named its reopening date and the inaugural exhibition as a new manager arrives to take the helm.

Sharna Jackson outside the expanded Site Gallery in Sheffield, which reopens in late September. Picture: Andrew Roe
Sharna Jackson outside the expanded Site Gallery in Sheffield, which reopens in late September. Picture: Andrew Roe

Sharna Jackson has been appointed as the artistic director at the Site Gallery, on Brown Street in the Cultural Industries Quarter, succeeding Laura Sillars who has left to run the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art.

The revamped venue launches with a festival weekend on September 29 and 30, when the first show will start in the 262 sq m main gallery space. Liquid Crystal Display - inspired by the ubiquity of crystal mineral technology - will bring together the work of 15 artists, including a new sculpture by Anna Barham incorporating rarely-seen pieces of quartz from the collection of Victorian writer John Ruskin.

"It's an absolute honour to be here," said Sharna, who joins ahead of Site's 40th anniversary. The place started in Walkley as the Untitled Gallery, moving to Brown Street in 1988.

The Site Gallery team: Kirsty Young, marketing and development manager, Sharna Jackson, the new artistic director, Judith Harry, executive director and Angelica Sule, curator. Picture: Andrew Roe

It is, she agreed, the perfect time to take over. "To inherit the Liquid Crystal Display show and claim that as my first is brilliant too. I couldn't ask for more."

She is already very familiar with Sheffield. She is on the board of Doc/Fest and is on the advisory committee of the city's Children's Media Conference, curating its Playground exhibition for families at Site.

"I've been coming to Sheffield for almost a decade," she said. "I just love it here. I don't like it because it's a 'mini London' or anything like that, it's a fantastic city with its own heritage that has so many creative people trying to do new things. I just want to see how I can support and develop that."

Sharna, 37, starts the job following a spell as a freelance curator, producer and writer. She has worked at the Design Museum, consulted for the V&A's Museum of Childhood and spent time at The Broad in LA. Previously she worked for the Tate for seven years, launching its award-winning Tate Kids venture which was regarded as a blueprint for the way museums and galleries can work with children.

Her expertise lies in digital initiatives, and as well as leading Site's programme she will be looking for 'smart ways' to attract visitors.

"As our programme develops you'll see what we're trying to do. There'll be loads of reasons to come to Site. There should be something for everybody."

Sharna is originally from Luton, and spends part of her time in Rotterdam in the Netherlands which has a 'really interesting emerging digital arts scene', she said. She will be moving to Sheffield in August with her eight-year-old son.

"Sheffield is what Luton could have been if they got it together and Rotterdam is where you see it going. In these post-industrial towns, what happens when the industry goes is interesting."

She said she would be championing diversity. "How could I not? Diversity for me doesn't just mean we're going to fill the gallery with black women's stuff. We're going to think about the spectrum of diversity - disabilities, sexualities. It's a space for everybody and I'm going to make sure that is something we stick to. The more variety and voices we have can only be a good thing."

Judith Harry, Site's executive director, said the gallery's focus will shift to the wider Cultural Industries Quarter once the venue has reopened.

"The CIQ has kind of been forgotten about over the years. We've got the Showroom cinema, the Site Gallery and Yorkshire Artspace - three consecutive buildings."

The gallery will use Arts Council money to help revive Pinball Square, a run-down space on the opposite side of Brown Street that dates from the days of the National Centre for Popular Music, now Sheffield Hallam University's students' union.

"Our focus is very much on that square, and that will be our next major programme of work," said Judith. Site has teamed up with partners to determine how artists, designers and architects can use the area - architecture practice Wayward, which specialises in creating conceptual gardens, has been hired to transform the space.

"Everybody round here says they want somewhere nice to have lunch," she said.

Site closed for construction work 18 months ago, taking over premises next door previously occupied by Sheffield Independent Film. The headline sum of £2.7m includes a 25-year lease on the building, so the true bill is closer to £1.7m. Arts Council England - which upped Site's annual funding by 60 per cent last year - gave a grant of £970,000, Sheffield Council pledged £125,000 and fundraising paid for the rest. A bigger café and events area are being provided, as well as a better shop and workspaces to let.

The gallery specialises in contemporary multimedia and performance art; past exhibitors include Mike Kelley, Jeremy Deller and Sophie Calle.