From Jay-Z to a pop-up garden studio: St Ann's Allotments welcome Rankin to Nottingham

By Ben Miller | 14 May 2014

Having triumphed in the Connect10 competition, St Ann's Allotments have had a rollercoaster ride to a day with Rankin

a black and white photo portrait of Rankin winking
Plot-keepers will pose for portraits from Rankin for Museums at Night© Rankin
The seam between glossy black and white photos of Miley Cyrus, Jay-Z and David Bowie and centuries of vegetable growing in the East Midlands might not be an immediately obvious one.

But when the Grade II-listed St Ann’s Allotments won a visit from superstar photographer Rankin, the link between its green shoots and the red carpet was sealed.

“I think it’s that whole incongruity between the international celebrity angle of Rankin and something as beautiful and humble, in a sense, as the allotments,” ponders Suzannah Bedford, of the Renewal Trust behind the wild venue, pausing after “quite a rollercoaster” of a build-up which saw their campaign, Rankin4Notts, win the Connect10 public vote by more than 40%.

“Although they’re not actually humble - they’re phenomenal. But it’s kind of, ‘hang on a sec.’

“From the moment we went to the public vote it was one of the most exciting things we’ve ever done.

“It just felt like the whole of Nottingham city pulled together. It felt like we were doing it on behalf of the city.

“I don’t think we would have entered if we didn’t have a healthy sense of competition,” she laughs.

“But the fact it was such an overwhelming majority took us by surprise. It demonstrated a demand and interest which has been wonderful.

“We had so many congratulations coming in from so many corners of the city. It was just a real moment of elation.”

The plots are already adored – open days always prove hugely popular at an attraction Bedford calls “special” and “precious” – but she believes Rankin’s global profile allowed them to reach out “on a different platform”.

“Obviously we go through his team, because he’s incredibly busy, as one would expect for an artist of his stature.

“I have had pretty much daily contact with his team. Two of his team have been up twice.

“It’s been wonderful – they have been lovely, they have been helpful, they’ve come back on everything that we’ve asked.

“And what’s impressed me more than anything is that every question has gone to Rankin himself and he has been incredibly generous throughout this project.

“To have an artist oversee it at that level of detail really surprised me. I’ve been very grateful for that.”

Rankin Live, the project through which the artist has photographed hundreds of members of the public, has perhaps never had a more unusual setting than this.

“It’s been quite a tour de force,” says Bedford.

“We’re not a museum or gallery in the traditional sense, so we don’t have either the staff that are used to working on arts events or the facilities. We’ve had to create everything from scratch.”

A hired marquee will be a studio by day and pop-up gallery by night, with the local council lending the power-free site a technical officer (“we had lots of conversations about amps and kilowatts”, says Bedford).

Allotment-holders and volunteers will pose for portraits at three locations, followed by a question-and-answer session with Rankin and timed evening viewings for the public, entertained by flamenco guitarists, a heritage garden display and a makeshift real ale and cider bar. An independent local cinema will showcase the photos during the coming weeks.

“We hope people will bear with us, because it is a kind of pop-up event. We’ve had to overcome every obstacle. But the goodwill on this project has been extraordinary.”

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Hundreds of events take place for Museums at Night between May 15-17 2014. Visit and follow the festival on Twitter@MuseumsAtNight.

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We are very excited about tomorrow - look out for the story of Rankin's visit on The BBC2 show Museums at Night on Saturday night...
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