I became a self-employed muralist and decorative artist at the age of 19, having had my application for a place at Portsmouth Art College denied due to my shortage of formal qualifications. I had started 4 small businesses by the time I was 22, and in 1990 I became the first person in the world to paint satellite dishes as a business – for which I received international media attention. At an exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham in 1992, I presented HRH Prince Charles with a camouflaged satellite dish cover for his Highgrove home.
In the following years, I continued working as a muralist and community campaigner and my work took me to many places in the UK and abroad. My murals are particularly well known in the south of England and I have also painted murals in France, Egypt, Thailand, India and Brazil. The murals are commissioned by organisations, councils, and businesses including hotels and private individuals.
By the year 2000, my childhood dream of creating an arts centre where other community artists could work, and where free workshops could be offered to the community, started to come into fruition.
I found the most beautiful quaint building and negotiated with the local council for the lease. It was derelict and facing demolition, and needed approximately £70,000 capital funding to be renovated – but the gatekeepers cottage and location was perfect. It was in a Victorian-era park in the centre of Portsmouth… so ART IN THE PARK was born.
I then raised the necessary funding for the renovation, project managed the transformation and enlisted the help of many local volunteers. By the summer of 2002 the centre was up and running and our group the Art & Soul Traders became a not for profit social enterprise and the building project won the Portsmouth Society’s Best Renovation Award 2003.
The centre undertook hundreds of community murals, free workshops, and courses in painting, graphic design, music, film-making, drama, website design, and radio production. There was also a café and gallery space for local artists to exhibit their work and licensed bar for evening events including film, live performance, comedy and music. Additionally, we run free events in the park, attracting up to 5,000 people. The last 17 years we reached over 70,000 people and created over £4 million for our city including micro businesses, community development projects whilst clocking up over 120,000 volunteer hours.
We run as a Community Interest Company Co-Op as we believe in our members benefiting from their work and having a voice in the overall running of the organisation. We also believe everyone is entitled to learn new skills for life and be offered the opportunity to reach their full potential. I have initiated most of our mural projects, courses, workshops, and events and apply for funding and grants to ensure that the most is achieved from restricted budgets. I employ and manage staff and volunteers (5–45) and also deal with marketing our cultural hub. Other duties running an art centre include administration, finance, Health & Safety, Equal Opportunities, Child Protection, Charity Law and Committee procedures.
Having won numerous awards over the last 30 years including Nationwide regional inspirational leader (Social Entrepreneur), Best landscaping, Best renovation, with 17 Lord Mayors unveiling our projects and featuring regally in the local media for my work with the community in the Portsmouth area, I hope I have inspired and encouraged a new generation to have the confidence and understanding that anyone can overcome adversity and become whatever they want to be in life no matter what your background or lack of qualifications and resources.
The most important things to me have been to enjoy my work, being self-motivated, discreet, green, honest and enthusiastic and trying to keep my integrity whilst all around you lose theirs;)
Mark E.W. Lewis