Her schedule consists of running an art gallery, managing a bar, career counselling, helping with her fiancés Mexican food business and doing a yoga course as well as looking after her two young children, three chickens and one cat. Nothing and no one, it seems, can stop Leila Cosgrove.
The hours she spares to speak today testify to her words, “I only ever want the best for everybody”. But her good nature doesn’t mean she’s timid. Leila stares into your eyes and commands attention. Her mouth is like a floodgate; when open the words pour out like rushing water. She jumps sporadically from topic to topic, speaking of her passion for creative arts, trailing off to tell you about her friends and then switching back to the arts. Although there is a lighter side to her words, you get the feeling she speaks from a point of value.
Brisbane born Leila grew up on six hectares of land in Jimboomba, attending Beaudesert High School. “There was a lot of bullying,” she tells, “you really went to school prepped to defend yourself… it was hardcore.” In year 11 she decided to “conquer” the challenge of becoming school captain and in 1999 she did. “I was not your typical school captain,” she explains, describing herself as “alternative” because of her involvement in a band full of boys who would play “Thursday jam sessions” in the centre of the school at lunchtime.
Of her years after high school, Leila says her self-proclaimed “rebellious artistic drive… to conquer the world” didn’t correlate with the mundane business degree she began studying. She found herself in and out of degrees, “changing all the time,” while working for a law firm.
She then moved to Brisbane to work for a legal agency. At 26 years old she was a manager with a team of 20 settlement clerks beneath her and a decent salary behind her during the Brisbane property boom of 2006.But one day Leila crashed. She was driving to work when she found herself playing with the side of her mouth. “My mouth just wanted to turn down all the time,” she says. On the borderline of depression, with “extraordinarily stressful hours”, Leila had an epiphany; she had deviated so far off course from music and her desire “to change the world one way or another”. “You’d think I would have felt miserable about my lifestyle,” she says, “I was just really good at coping.” And so her life overhaul began.
In 2006, Leila went back to uni, completing her business degree along with event management and music studies. Her schedule: a combination of music booking and management, volunteering for event company Oztix, stage managing at the Woodford Folk Festival, booking her own emerging artist nights and career counselling for young musicians. It seems Leila has a knack for seeing in people what others can’t. “These kids are brilliant and their parents are sitting in front of me telling me we just don’t know what they’re going to do with their life,” she says of her role as a careers advisor.
She began combining her career counselling with music booking, using her contacts to help young musicians get their break. “Every single person you meet is a potential friend or business partner or colleague,” she says. Leila knows the friends she made in those days have been important now she has moved into the next phase of her life with her art gallery.
It was 2011 when Leila and close friend Kahlia wanted to start an art studio with a view to bring a taste of Melbourne’s laneway culture to Brisbane. “I love that feeling of tumbling down a rabbit hole, you don’t know where you’re going,” says Leila. The pair had no way of funding it. “We were pretty broke,” explains Kahlia. After finding the perfect space on Gumtree, Leila put her mind to it and there was no going back. “She could see it working… and she made it happen and she was fearless in that respect,” tells Kahlia. And so Bird Gallery and Studio, fondly called ‘Bird’ for short, was hatched.
Currently Bird lies somewhat hidden down the end of a little brick alleyway in Brisbane’s CBD. The lane is lit with fairy lights and plastered with posters. Electric music fills the air, bouncing between the walls. Just when you think you’ve reached the end, a sign points around a sharp left corner, down a flight of stairs and into the “rabbit hole”. “Kitschy, cute and mysterious,” is how Bird event producer Tash Dombrow describes the gallery, which shares space with Bean café. But to keep up with the pace of Leila’s life, the gallery may be on the move. One gets the feeling everybody else is running along behind Leila trying to keep up with the frenetic pace of her restless mind.
Bird’s current shared space is self-funded, requiring a constant inflow of money. When they haven’t had bookings, they have created their own events. This is where Leila’s event management and business degrees have made sense. They have held multiple artist exhibitions, like the current “Everyone’s Exhibition”, where each artist is allowed to exhibit one artwork for free. Leila’s theory behind involving more artists means more people attend the launch party, resulting in greater exposure for the gallery.
But with Leila saying she only gives twenty-five per cent of her time to the studio with the rest divided between other ventures (today she has come to Bird Studio and Gallery before heading off to manage the bar for the afternoon) it’s a wonder how she keeps up with it all. “I’ve got about eight different calendars in my schedule,” tells Leila. But it’s so full her fiancé can’t read it, “you look at her calendar and there’s just things all over the place,” he says.
Leila beams when talking about her fiancé, pointing at a picture on the wall of the pair kissing. She explains how she met him in 2007 at a show he was playing in Melbourne. “I saw Forbes on the stage and I just fell in love with him… I lost all sense of everything,” she tells. “I could write a fairytale about our story.” After a three-year long distance relationship, Forbes made the move from Melbourne to Brisbane. Leila was working long hours, earning little money and raising a young son. His move couldn’t have occurred at a better time.
These days it seems like Leila’s going as fast as ever. Forbes notes it takes him an hour to do what Leila does in twenty minutes. “If we’re reading the same page… she’ll finish in about half the speed I would’ve,” he says, adding that she types “insanely quickly”.
Leila describes herself as having “no fear of failing” and Forbes agrees. He explains how Leila agreed to look after her friend’s staffie. “It was good for a while… now we only have two chickens,” he says with a laugh. “She’s a very dive-right-in sort of chick,” he tells. “It’s almost like she’s oblivious to that fear element… she will jump in… what comes along is sometimes additional challenges you’re unaware of and you go ‘oh shit’.”