In the second of our features on local art galleries Rachel Elderkin visits a gallery tucked away near Nottingham Station.
Upstairs at Hopkinson is a small room known as ‘The Classroom Gallery’. When artist Izzy Watts, an NTU graduate of fine-art, was invited to take over the space as an art gallery she chose to keep its classroom layout and so, complete with old-school desks and blackboard, ‘The Classroom Gallery’ was born.
Hopkinson, situated on Station Street, is an Aladdin’s cave of vintage items and antiques – the kind of place where you could easily spend far more time than you intended. The four-floored building used to be an ‘Engineers Merchants’ established by Mr Hopkinson of H. Hopkinson LTD in the 1800’s. The upper-floors are now home to a variety of creative businesses, including a guitar shop, T-shirt printer, a bespoke shirt shop and a number of artist’s studios – not forgetting the café of course.
As Izzy best describes it Hopkinson is a bit like a miniature, independent department store. As a Community Interest Company it is an environment that aims to support creative businesses in the region and it is this creative, community scene at Hopkinson that Izzy enjoys.
“It is a very creative place to be and we can all help each other as each has something different to give” (Alan Oliver, the t-shirt printer, brings a tee he has especially printed for the weekend’s Craft Mafia opening as we speak). “We want to try and better integrate all the artists here – ask those working in the studios if they want to sell their work in the shop for instance. We want to offer platforms for people and create a supportive environment where we can help and promote each other”.
This inclusive view is one which pervades Izzy’s visions for The Classroom Gallery and her role as the manager of this space. “What I like about art is that it can be anywhere, anything and everything. It is something to be discovered and so it should be accessible to everyone.”
“At Hopkinson there is a massive footfall. Hundreds of people could potentially come and visit the gallery over the course of a week, people who are not necessarily art enthusiasts. For that reason I try to make the shows at The Classroom Gallery accessible to all audiences. I like to keep the themes of the exhibitions clear, interesting and relevant”.
Past themes have included ‘The Classroom Show’ (“everyone has been to school!”) ‘No Place Like Home’ and forthcoming exhibition ‘Great British Bonanza’.
“I like being able to put forward a theme and then have other people respond to it. It is so interesting to see how differently people interpret the same theme, to see the different strands going off. ‘No Place Like Home’ was really interesting as I see home as a safe place and envisaged a cosy exhibition – lots of cross-stitch! But there were so many different views on the theme; a poet who saw home as an imprisonment, a work which documented homes on an eroding coastline, a complete dolls house… something always turns up that I don’t expect”.
The newest exhibition on the theme of ‘Great Britain’ continues Izzy’s desire to bring people and creative businesses together and ties in with the opening of the Craft Mafia shop at Hopkinson; an organisation that originally started in Austin, Texas, and has gradually spread across the pond. It is a place for crafters to bring their work together; to sell, produce and run or attend workshops.
“Hopkinson is full of British antiques, so it is great that this opening, ‘The Great British Bonanza’, will involve the whole building and bring everyone together”, says Izzy. “I feel quite patriotic as a person but as a country I don’t think that we are so much. I spent some time living in Holland and they are so much more patriotic there – especially on Queen’s Day!”
However, this is not a patriotic exhibition, rather a collective celebration of British people, country and culture.
“I feel the response to this exhibition has really encompassed a spectrum of people and of society – there are some wonderful stories behind the works exhibited. The eldest artist exhibiting is a 77 year old woman who has some beautiful work, and then we also have a middle-aged politician and a graphics student”.
Inkeeping with Izzy’s inclusive attitude any artist who wishes to submit work for inclusion in an exhibition can do so, whatever their level of experience. “Anyone can get involved; I don’t want to alienate people, I want to keep the arts scene open”.
“I also want to give lesser known artists a chance to exhibit their work – I hope to include graduate shows in the gallery or open a section in the shop for graduates to sell their work. In the current climate people need to be more self-motivated – you never know who may walk into Hopkinson! I think that people are starting these things slowly and surely though; we are starting to become more integrated.”
Izzy’s aim is that art will become an integral part of Hopkinson – “I want to fill it with art, allow visitors to keep discovering little pieces in different places, not just in the gallery. I want to try and show art from different angles – I always think that art is in the way you look at things.”
Accordingly, The Classroom Gallery is available to hire and Izzy is enthusiastic about getting different people in to use the space. “Anything can be art, so the gallery is totally available and we will support anyone who wants to use it, whether that is to exhibit, to advertise their creative business or for a workshop or photography shoot”.
“I like the idea of it being a free-flowing, open space. I will plan to an extent; if there are any gaps then I will consider what exhibition we could have next but it is never fixed – if it gets booked for something else then it gets booked. I want to keep it interesting for people who come in or pass by”.
It is perhaps this flexible, inclusive approach that makes Hopkinson such an interesting and creatively diverse place to visit.
“I think it is important to do your own thing and that is how Hopkinson and The Classroom Gallery are a bit different in their approach. We are not necessarily fully established yet, but I hope to attract a more permanent audience for the future rather than just students and those who already know about the arts – which is what you get with a lot of the other independent galleries in Nottingham. With our location we get a more diverse crowd so it is important to keep things moving and interesting. There is so much else to do here besides visiting the gallery”.
Whether you visit Hopkinson to seek out a vintage treasure, have a guitar lesson or simply pop in for some tea and cake, make sure you leave time to visit the small gallery tucked away upstairs. With so much creativity in one place you never know what may be taking place there – The Classroom Gallery is certainly one of Hopkinson’s many hidden gems waiting to be discovered.
by Rachel Elderkin
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