Laura Mulhern - South West Artwork

We were thrilled when South West Artwork’s Laura Mulhern agreed to be interviewed byBT Office Furniture & Interiors.

Her story is inspiring to all budding entrepreneurs and we are planning to work on projects together in the not too distant future.

What is your background?

I was born in Belfast N.Ireland but grew up in London where I studied and worked before I moved to Dorset in 2005. I came down to visit the coast one summer and never went back!


I studied to tertiary level and graduated with BA Hons in English and Directing for Theatre.

I was also awarded the UnLtd Award Level 1 for social entrepreneurship with South West Artwork.

What previous jobs did you have?

I have done all manner of jobs since graduating, ranging from Front of House staff at the Lyceum theatre in London to working in television then as a business analyst for a large retailer.

My working life has been an exciting journey through creative and business environments which has helped no end with managing my own business.

What motivated you to start your own business?

When I moved to the coast I made a number of friends who were recent graduates of art and design from various institutes across the South West. They were all talented people who had studied a variety of degrees including visual arts, illustration and design but had very little outlet to exhibit and sell their work within the region. Most would leave the area to seek work and opportunities in larger city areas such as London.

I also recognised there were a number of hospitality and corporate spaces in the area that would benefit from incorporating visual art and design within their space to make for a better environment for both guests and employees.

With public funding being cut across the board it is an important time to look to creating opportunities for artists and the creative industries that is sustainable.

When did SW Artwork become established?

We became a limited company in 2008 and are registered as a Community Interest Company which is still a relatively new approach to business. It is designed for social enterprises like ourselves to use their profits and assets for public good. The further official definition of a CIC continues this; ‘By using business solutions to achieve public good, it is believed that social enterprises have a distinct and valuable role to play in helping create a strong, sustainable and socially inclusive economy’.

What does SW Artwork do?

The South West Artwork business is two-fold. We help emerging visual artists to raise their profile and offer them regular commissioned based opportunities to create and exhibit new work. Our second branch is to offer corporate, hospitality and heritage sites art and/or creative projects to exhibit at their site. This can range from a large wall mural in their offices, to sourcing a photographer for workshops at a bed and breakfast or creating longer lasting projects that are rolled out at heritage sites such an artistic led GPS app game such as we trialled at The National Trust Corfe Castle site last year. We are currently working on a public art commission for 2014 to commemorate the centenary of WW1 working in partnership with The British Library and The Imperial War Museum – so watch this space! We will be updating the website with more information soon.

What kind of artwork does SWA provide?

The artwork and artists workshops we facilitate centre round contemporary painting, illustration, urban art, photography and sculpture.

We provide contemporary artwork on a rental or purchase basis to corporate and hospitality sites – we pride ourselves in providing bespoke art that suits the brand identity and philosophy for each company we work with. One example is the contemporary B+B Weymouth – we currently showcase artwork from 6 artists and all work was chosen to tie in with their fresh seaside vibe and spacious relaxed environment.

Alongside facilitating photography and painting workshops we also provide large wall murals and creative signage for creative agencies and education institutes such as Bournemouth University.

What type of artists is SWA looking for?

We are always on the hunt for new creative talent to represent. We mostly work with recent graduates or early to mid-career artists in contemporary and urban art that have an association with the South West. Get in touch if this you! We’d love to hear from you.

What is the business model?

The company relies on artists membership, art rental to business, direct sales of artwork online and commissions from larger creative projects. We aim to grow this over the next 5 years and are aiming to represent over 100 South West artists by the end of next year.

We are a not for profit company which means that any additional profit is put back into the company to allow us to create large creative projects such as and our new centenary project next year. We do apply for public funding as well.

Advice for new business owners?

Do your research. Is your idea financially viable? How will you make it work and who are your main competitors?

Most importantly don’t be afraid to ask for help. Everyone had to start somewhere and the greatest development the business and I had was when I got a mentor assigned to me through WSX Enterprise. Talking with people who have been there and done it before is vital when starting up. And lastly, listen to your customer. If they don’t buy into your brand or product from the off you will struggle to maintain and grow your business.

Do you use social media?

Yes we certainly do, it’s a vital part of our marketing strategy. Facebook and Twitter is a fantastic platform for us as most of our customers have found us via social media including partners we have such as Brilliant Fish PR & Marketing.

How important is it to your business?

Very, we have won work and gained members through Twitter and Facebook. YouTube is also a great platform to showcase the type of work we can produce in a fun and creative way.

Also it’s free! The only outlay is our time – but when you’re starting out you need to keep costs low and aim for maximum exposure so social media is perfect for that. I’ve learnt so much from using social media successfully that I now offer freelance consultancy for a variety of businesses looking to achieve a greater online presence.

What are your plans for the future?

To grow! We would love to provide more art and creative projects to businesses across the South West which in turn will mean we can provide more opportunities for emerging artists to create and exhibit new work.

Final words?

Wherever you are or whatever you are doing you should always feel inspired by your surroundings. Visual triggers make for a better working and home life. That is why we love doing what we do. Art can provide that sense of escapism or inspired thought that beige walls don’t quite master!

We’d love to hear what you think of our company and if we can be of service to any business or artist out there we’d love to hear from you!