Lakeside Arts
Part of University of Nottingham
Lakeside Arts

'Off the Wall' written in pink putty


Between 22 February and 29 March, Crop Up Gallery’s ‘Off the Wall’ will be exhibiting in Wallner Gallery. I sat down with director, Milly Cooke, and discussed all things Crop Up and why you should check out their latest exhibition. 

Crop Up Gallery are the University of Nottingham’s student curatorial group whose motives lie in challenging the norm, encouraging diversification and supporting the Nottingham art scene.

Their latest exhibition at Lakeside Arts, will be exhibited in the Wallner Gallery between 22 February and 29 March called Off the Wall: From the Inside Looking Out, the exhibition seeks to destabilise the traditional boundaries between art and the viewer. Rather than having a separation between the two, the exhibition encourages interaction with the pieces, with themes of nostalgia and the environment prevailing throughout the narrative.

To learn more about the collective and about the exhibition, we spoke to Crop Up’s Director Milly about her involvement in the group and why their latest exhibition is the most out-there one to date.

So, before we get into things, why did you join Crop Up?

I decided to apply for Crop Up after the director at the time, when I was a fresher, came and spoke to the new first years about this curatorial opportunity offered at the university. Although I had no previous exhibition or event experience, and always preferred to make art myself rather than curate it, Crop Up really appealed to me. It was an opportunity to join a team that was not a society and rather functioned somewhat independently to the university, whilst still making friends with and meeting students from different year groups and courses. I applied for the curation team as exhibition display has always interested me, so I thought it would be an exciting opportunity to take up as a first year as it was something that could potentially further a career in this field.

That’s great, but what exactly does it mean to be the Director of Crop Up?

As the Director, I decide, with the help of my team, on exhibition themes and ideas and event plans, as well as organising the team into separate departments that are best suited to their relative experience and interests.

Although Crop Up are a ‘curatorial collective,’ we are split into five teams that include, curation, events, PR, social media and graphics. So, although we all work together and meet most weeks to discuss any plans or ideas we have, the whole group is separated into these teams, so we all have a specific role to play, as well as collaborating as a collective.

We have previously worked with Backlit and Lakeside Arts, and last year we took part in UKYA (UK Young Artists) by helping to invigilate exhibition spaces across the city. Also, more recently, we have made our own zines, selling them at zine fairs, and have also been invited into a primary school and to Queen’s Medical Centre to paint and decorate their interiors which has been a really exciting and different opportunity for us as a collective.

You speak about having little experience in events and curation, so how did you go about navigating how to put on an exhibition?

Our usual process is to collectively come up with a theme, create a call-out sheet to artists spanning the East Midlands, and often beyond, choose which proposals we deem best fit to our exhibition, and then curate and install the exhibits into the gallery space. To accompany the exhibition, we usually host a club night (at the end of last year we had a glitter party x drink and draw), and various workshops. For example, last year we held a zine-making workshop at Backlit, and for our upcoming exhibition at Lakeside we will have a gallery walkthrough and a children’s workshop related to the exhibition theme.

How do you feel about returning to Lakeside?

It’s really nice to have a relationship that we can rely on that goes beyond our university education, but simultaneously is related to it. We have held a number of exhibitions in the Wallner Gallery at Lakeside Arts, all very different, and I think returning to a comfortable and friendly space allows us to have a clearer understanding of how the institution works, and also challenges us to create differing curatorial experiences, albeit in the same space. It is really comforting to have obtained a reliable relationship with Lakeside, and to know that they respect and treat us as more than just university students.

Returning to Lakeside Arts challenges us to create differing curatorial experiences”

What can you tell us about the new exhibition, without giving too much away?

Firstly, Off the Wall: From the Inside Looking Out is completely different to what we usually do. When trying to come up with a theme, I struggled quite a lot as I wanted to create something quite unique, as well as challenging us as a curatorial collective. Eventually we came up with Off the Wall, which refers both to curation and the artworks we will exhibit. The idea of our exhibition is to create a sensory experience for the audience and an attempt at breaking away from museum conventions. We are commonly told ‘please do not touch’ in art galleries, and we usually become very quiet when placed into an art setting. Therefore, we want to confront these notions by curating art that the audience can become immersed in and can physically engage in. It also allows us to confront conventional curation and rejecting the ways in which art is “meant” to be hung on the walls.


Crop Up Gallery’s Off The Wall: From the Inside Looking Out will be in Wallner Gallery between 22 February and 29 March.