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Crop Up Gallery: The Student Run Curatorial Group Giving Art Students Their Big Break

22 March 18 interview: Chloe Rose Whitmore

As any depressed graduate will tell you, a lot of jobs will ask you for experience in your field. But you’ve been too busy studying… well, sort of.  Actually you’ve been playing prosecco pong and skinny dipping in the Market Square fountain. When were you meant to get this experience anyway? Well, that’s where Crop Up Gallery is lending a hand...

Established in 2012, Crop Up Gallery is a student-run curatorial group, organising pop-up art exhibitions in and around Nottingham. It was set up as a way to help students get the work experience they need to pursue careers in the often-elite art sector.

We sat down with Crop Up Director Molly Chatterton and Head of PR Alice Avis to have a chat about what the group do, and find out more about their upcoming exhibition Sanctuary.

So, what is it that Crop Up do?
Molly: We’re an independent group affiliated with the University of Nottingham. In the first couple of years we had funding from the uni, but then that ran out, so now we’re kind of self-funded. We do a range of fundraising events, as well as curating exhibitions based in Nottingham and the Midlands. These are free exhibitions for the public; they can be quite diverse, with a real range of stuff.

Are you all students at UON?
Molly: Yeah. It started off in the art history department, but we’re expanding, so we now also have people who do a lot of different degrees, like history and psychology. We mainly take on undergraduates, but we sometimes take on postgrad students as well.

What inspired the theme of your upcoming exhibition, Sanctuary?
Molly: We had a range of photographs donated to the university through the Golder-Thompson Gift. A lot of the work is nature photography and personal portraits, and the theme of sanctuary can be associated with the individual pieces, like sanctuary in nature and having your own personal identity. But it can also be linked to preserving photography. And because Lakeside has a lot of families visiting, we thought that Sanctuary is a theme that could be enjoyed by a range of age groups.

How long does it take to put together an exhibition, and how much work is involved?
Molly: It really depends on how big the exhibition is, and how long it’s running for. This exhibition is running for five weeks, so it took quite a while, but the one we did last year only ran for a week, and we were able to comfortably organise that within a term. It also depends if you need artists to curate work, because you have to give them time to do that as well.

Do you ever get sad when the exhibitions are over?
Molly: It’s quite a lot of stress, but once it’s finished you’re like “wow, look what we’ve achieved here.” Due to the nature of it, there’s no time to be sad. We’re always thinking about the next thing we can do.
Alice: Plus we have little side projects going on. Our photography team is doing a little side project now, and we’re creating a zine.

So, you’re helping students get a career in art. Would you say it’s a hard area to get into?
Molly: Yeah; I think graduate jobs, especially in the arts, often ask for a minimum of one year’s experience. With art galleries, there’s this notion that it’s quite elitist, and that’s what we’re trying to break down. We’re trying to give students real first-hand experience of putting on an exhibition. I think Crop Up is a very different thing to put on your CV.
Alice: We’re quite unique in the fact that we’re entirely student-run. We do all aspects ourselves. We have an events team, a PR team, a curation team, a photography team, a graphics team. Molly: Working with a variety of teams gets you different experience, and it just gives you life skills that you wouldn’t get with your degree. If you realise after that do you want to work in a gallery, that’s great, but if not, you can still use those skills with a different employer.

What’s your favourite thing about holding an exhibition?
Alice: I love having a physical thing I’ve made. I love walking into a space and thinking “yeah, I’ve done that.”
Molly: Seeing it all come together at the end. You see it reflected in all the other members, and we make sure everyone feels like a part of it.

What’s your favourite thing about Crop Up as a whole?
Alice: I really enjoy the writing on our blog. Being able to write whatever you want about art, and having that platform for it, is really nice.
Molly: The sense of community, too. I’ve made more friends for it, like me and Alice met through Crop Up, and we’re really great friends now. There’s a sense that you’re part of something, especially in something as massive as a university.

Any rivalry between Trent and UON students?
Molly: We worked with them last January, and there wasn’t any rivalry. This Trent vs UON rivalry is really hyped up during fresher’s week, and then you realise it’s nothing.

Anything else you’d like people to know about Crop Up?
Alice: Please come to our exhibition!

Crop Up Gallery’s upcoming exhibition Sanctuary runs from 7 April to 13 May at Lakeside Arts Centre, and will also feature a student walk through on 3 May.

Crop UP Gallery website

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