Eco Art on Butcher Street specialises in natural, non-toxic art supplies, pigments and local crafts and also serves as a community space for workshops and events.
Artist Anna Barclay came up with the idea for the shop after exploring planet-friendly alternatives to the materials she used in her own paintings.
Anna, who has travelled extensively in South America volunteering in environmental, marine and animal conservation projects, was frustrated that the most commonly used acrylic paints contain microplastics, which end up working their way into the sea and our bloodstreams.
“I’d be painting nature and the sea, but using paints which are actually damaging to the ocean,” says Anna.
“I started looking into how artists painted before the industrial revolution, and discovered suppliers producing natural earth paints, which are safer for the user and the environment.”
Impressed with the quality of the products, derived from flowers, rocks and natural resources, Anna devised a plan for a sustainable art supply shop and “community space for creativity, for the benefit of people and planet”.
When a vacant premises came up in Derry last year, just inside the City Walls and opposite the Maldron Hotel, she decided to take the plunge.
“I love Derry as a city. There are a lot of creative people here, and so many different festivals on through the year, that I knew it would be a great location,” says Anna.
Anna also signed up for the Start Up Accelerator Programme, a partnership by Derry City and Strabane District Council, Enterprise North West and Strabane Enterprise Agency with support from Fashion and Design Textile Hub and Strabane BID.
Funded by the UK Government through the Community Renewal Fund, it helps new entrepreneurs explore their ideas and provide assistance to develop business skills.
Through the programme, Anna received mentoring support and funding, attended workshops on topics such as finance and digital marketing, and met other new business owners.
“Navigating a new business during the last year has been unpredictable,” Anna admits.
“Having the security of one-to-one mentoring from Enterprise North West, and a team of professionals who you can ask for advice, was brilliant.
“And you’re meeting other people who’ve taken their own leap, which is really encouraging. They might have a totally different business to you, but you’re going through lots of the same worries and concerns.
“Through the programme and funding I’ve also been able to employ a member of staff. Having Katie, who’s so passionate about what we do, help run it day-to-day has been great.”
A community hub
After fitting out the shop with salvaged and recycled furniture, Anna was ready to welcome her first customers last autumn.
Inside, the shop is stocked with Natural Earth and Mineral Pigments, colouring pencils made from recycled paper, biodegradable glitter, beeswax candle-making kits and much more.
There are also ethical, eco-friendly gifts and homeware made by local crafters – including screen printer Naomi Arbuthnot of Naomi Prints, who Anna met through the Start Up Accelerator Programme.
Meanwhile, Eco Art’s Community Art Club gives local artists the opportunity to display their work in the shop window every month, and there are also workshops, zero waste events and activities to tie in with local festivals such as Derry Halloween and the Foyle Maritime Festival.
Looking to the future
Anna says she’s had “so many positive reactions” from customers, tourists, and artists visiting the city, and thanked local people for supporting her small business.
“My priority was to a make Eco Art a community space – to encourage people to explore their own creativity, in a way that’s harmonious to the planet,” she adds.
“The climate crisis is happening all the time and it’s not going to get any better. It’s not to scare people, it’s to encourage them and say, this is worth protecting. We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”
She adds: “We live in a fast-paced society and I also think Covid was a wake-up call to slow down, whether that be taking time out in nature or exploring your artistic side. Even if people think they aren’t ‘good’ at art.
“Art isn’t there to be sat and gazed at, it’s about the journey and the process rather than the finished product.”
Anna says she would encourage others have a business idea to seek available support through Council and Enterprise North West, who can help you through the process.
She adds: “If you have a business idea that you are passionate about, there is support there to help make it a reality.”Tags: