Tucked away by the service entrance to Centrale Shopping Centre, on Keeley Road in Croydon, you’ll find Turf; a not-for-profit gallery that doubles as artist studios. Bright and airy, the exhibition space is currently home to a vibrating, disembodied arse – but this is just a small part of Turf’s offering.
As well as exhibitions, Turf runs artist-led projects including talks, events and classes, both onsite and elsewhere in Croydon. What’s more – they’re all for free. It’s a fantastic opportunity for local residents wanting to engage with the local art community, and it wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for artist and founder Alice Cretney.
Born in Bristol to a midwife and a computer programmer, Cretney isn’t exactly from the most artistic of households – but she often found herself getting lost in creating art growing up. “I would get carried away and then be like ‘Oh, what’s the time?’ and it would turn out I’d been drawing for ages,” she laughs.
Fast forward a few years, and she was studying fine art painting at Wimbledon College of Art in south London.
It was here that Cretney had the idea for what would become Turf. “While I was at university I decided I wanted to set up a gallery in Croydon, like a pop-up space. After that it had always been at the back of my head, but I never had the means to actually do it.”
After graduating with a first class degree, Cretney began volunteering at Matthews Yard, an arts and community hub based in central Croydon. This developed into a full-time job, and she started organising exhibitions, music, comedy and theatre events – great practice for the future founder of Turf.
The job offered more than just practical experience, however. “I definitely think that if I hadn’t worked there I wouldn’t have set up Turf Projects, because I got to meet lots of different people from the community who were interested in art. Not necessarily artists – they were just enthusiastic about impacting the community in a positive way.”
It was while at Matthews Yard that Cretney put on her first exhibition as Turf – a crazy golf course made by artists, installed in Exchange Square. It was a small affair that lasted just a day and a half and Cretney couldn’t afford to pay her artists, but it proved so popular that for six weeks over the summer of 2014, Turf brought it to East Croydon station on a much larger scale.
Turf Projects went from strength to strength, becoming a team of seven and putting on exhibitions, events, drawing tours of Croydon and workshops for adults with learning difficulties, and even setting up as a charity. Cretney was determined from the start to ensure Turf’s exhibitions were relevant to the local community in some way.
The ultimate goal for Cretney was to get a permanent gallery and studio space, and at the end of April last year she managed just that. “We only had two weeks to turn the space into what it is now – it used to be Workout World, an old fitness centre!” But, with the help of volunteers, the Turf team turned the venue around in time for their first exhibition in the new space, Tru Luv. They’ve never looked back.
It’s been a lot of hard work for Cretney. “I feel like the work I’m doing should be done by three people! I’m just here all the time,” she says, without showing any signs of slowing down. In future, she wants to expand the number of artist studios that Turf offer.
“Since having a studio in Brixton, I kind of wanted to create a community of artists within Croydon so people don’t have to travel to make work, and can do it where they’re living.”
Ultimately, Cretney herself has decided she wants to settle in Croydon for good. And Turf projects? “We’re definitely here for the long run!”
Turf Projects, Keeley Road, Croydon, London. CR0 1TF
The next exhibition Get Fit opens March 4 and runs until April 16.
Open: Tuesday to Saturday 11am – 5pm, or by appointment.