Ode to a big dreamer: Lesley Perkes

We all have dreams, but some of us have huge dreams. Lesley Perkes was one of those who didn’t mess around with the small stuff. She was an endless source of ideas and passion for huge public art projects that could change our city and the lives of those in it. Decorating massive towers, putting huge paintings on huge buildings, mobilising dozens of artists to speak out about political and social issues … These were the things always on her mind.

And she was one of the few people who actually pursued their big dreams. She had endless energy and persistence in trying to convince the city or corporate South Africa to do bold and different things. Many of those who worked in the city’s cultural bureaucracy will tell you how she hounded and pursued them with ideas and plans, refusing to let anyone equivocate.

Lesley cared about people, about art, culture, public space, public discussion, about her country and city – not as a place or a site, but a space occupied by real people.

She had little time for cant. At her funeral, one of her friends told me that whenever he saw her she would say, “Haven’t you made enough money yet? Isn’t it time you did something useful?” And she had a bunch of suggestions, I expect, for what this person could do.

The attendance at her funeral was a tribute. It was one of the biggest I have been to in a long time, and the crowd was all kinds: young and old, businessmen, bureaucrats and bums, artists and con artists, musicians and mavericks. Mostly mavericks, come to pay tribute to a marvellous, big-hearted maverick.

*This tribute fist appeared in City Press Online, February 2015

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