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WHALE Arts’ Leah Black explains how her career has been shaped by artists with a strong business understanding and her precious Clore notebook.

Photo of Leah Black
Oliver Benton

Alison Macleod and Jasleen Kaur

After starting my career as a primary school teacher, I trained as a jeweller and silversmith at Glasgow School of Art and worked as a jeweller for several years after graduation. As someone who made the decision not to focus on making as my main career, I have immense respect and admiration for two of my good friends and peers – Alison Macleod and Jasleen Kaur – who work in very different ways to each other.

Alison a highly skilled jeweller and Jasleen an artist communicating through a range of media, including sculpture, video and food. Both continue to push boundaries within their artistic practice whilst sustaining a creative business, something that many creative people struggle to achieve.

Colleagues at Spring Fling and Upland

Working in Dumfries and Galloway in South West Scotland as Project Manager of Spring Fling and then Director of Upland, I learned a huge amount from working closely with a wonderful group of artists and makers – many of whom continue to inspire me.

In particular there were three women within Spring Fling and Upland who I continuously learned from, who challenged and supported me and afforded me space to grow, try new things and to be ambitious. These were weaver Joyce Woodcock, painter Hazel Campbell – Chair of Upland and Spring Fling respectively – and my colleague Tonia Lu.

The Stove Network team

Although I have had much less involvement with the Stove Network in recent years, I was one of the first board members when the organisation was founded in 2013. At points over the past few years, and now as I embark on my new role at WHALE Arts, I have found myself reflecting on and feeling inspired and energised by some of the early conversations with Matt Baker and other early members of the Stove, and the meaningful projects they continually develop around community-led creative practice in Dumfries.

Clore 44

I was fortunate to have the experience of taking part in a Clore Cultural Leadership programme as a member of the 44th Clore Short Course cohort. The course came at a key point for me professionally. I periodically revisit my notes and reflect on my experiences, and have done so again in recent weeks as I continue in my new role at WHALE Arts.

Along with my precious Clore notebook, a source of continual support and inspiration are a supportive and generous collection of cultural ‘gurus’ – my Clore 44 friends and peers. We stay in touch, both remotely and in person. As the group grows into and embarks on new roles, I continue to learn new approaches to leading projects and organisations.

One Team Gov Scotland team

Last year I spotted a call on Twitter by Sarah Drummond – a service designer and founder of Snook – to create One Team Gov Scotland (#OneTeamGovScot). This grew from One Team Gov, which is a now global movement founded by a group of civil servants in London as a means of improving public services by bringing policy and delivery closer together.

I joined a small team in Scotland led by Sarah Drummond, and ended up volunteering in the core team organising the first Scotland based OneTeamGov unconference in Edinburgh with Katy McNeil, Leah Lockhart and Doug Knox. This was a steep learning curve for me and I continue to be impressed and inspired by their relentless energy and the fire they have in their bellies to strive for better public services.

Lynsey Smith

During my time at Creative Scotland in the Creative Industries Team I had the pleasure of working on a project with Lynsey Smith, Global Creative Hub Lead in the Creative Economy Team at the British Council. Lynsey has the most impressive global networks and a terrifyingly full schedule, but always has time for a non-work catch up and somehow achieves a good work/life balance.

She is a joy to work with and taught me – and I’m sure teaches everyone she interacts with – about the importance of making time for kindness, warmth and generosity at work.

Leah Black is Chief Executive of WHALE Arts.
Tw @LeahRBlack

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Photo of Leah Black