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Abigail's Blog: Don't mention the retaining wall

Posted on 24 July 2019

6 Music Festival 2015

This week Sage Gateshead’s Managing Director Abigail Pogson talks about our exciting new plans for the building…

We recently announced our plans to undertake some capital work on Sage Gateshead. It’s the first work of this kind on our building, which will be a whole 15 years old this December. This is a milestone in the young life of this extraordinarily ambitious organisation. It’s also a bit of milestone for me, as I never thought, when I washed up on these shores, that building work was in prospect.

We’re going to adapt the seats in our biggest room, Sage One, so that we can do partially standing gigs and festivals for audiences of up to 2,000. This will mean we can programme different musicians – who want to play to audiences on their feet – and this in turn will bring different audiences into our building. Then we’re going to change up our concourse area, creating even more of a town square – a place where people can come in for free, spend time, hear music, make music, have a cup of tea, a glass of wine. It pushes further the idea that Sage Gateshead is the North East’s indoor town square. And the indoor bit is crucial around these parts….

What does it all mean? Is it important to update buildings? It can’t really be about the bricks and mortar, can it? And why would we choose to embroil ourselves in the matter of retaining walls?

I do spend a lot of time saying it’s not about the building – it’s about what we do, why we do it, the impact it has and the people who are involved. I also spend a lot of time saying that in the past three years our orchestra, Royal Northern Sinfonia, has moved from doing 80% of its work in Sage Gateshead to doing 50% in our building and 50% across the region. Reaching more people, with a wider range of activity, across the North. So no, it isn’t about bricks and mortar. But a quality environment, which gives NewcastleGateshead and the North East the very, very best, does matter. Why would that be reserved for elsewhere?  And it matters that it’s a space which is open to anyone – free to enter, open all day and a generally welcoming and stimulating environment.

Our civic role, as a cultural institution, is to be open, to be available to as many people as possible and to be of fantastic quality. So bring on the retaining walls and I’ll be keeping my focus on every single new person who walks through our doors and every single debut artist who performs on our stages once this work is complete.  It’s about the building, so that it can not be about the building.

Above all, we’ll continue to celebrate the musicians who take to our stages – just last weekend it was k.d.Lang, Strictly Country, a line-up of the best Americana talent from both sides of the pond and the legend that is Kiefer Sutherland, to name only a few, headlining our trailblazing SummerTyne Americana Festival, in its 14th edition. And through the year, we’ll programme across tastes and genres of music so that the widest range of people across the North can have music in their lives. And we’ll continue to invest heavily in our work with children and young people to ensure that they can develop their creativity. And we’ll use music where we can see it will have a positive social impact for people in difficult circumstances. And we’ll nurture the next generation of musicians, so that mighty Northern voices make it to national and international stages. Whilst these things will be our focus, our home, and the quality of our home, underpins this.

So, thank you, thank you, thank you. To our audiences and our artists. And to our supporters.  We are funding this work through donations and grants. That means that we’re not paying off a loan – we have people who have put down good money, without wanting to see a return in cash, to make this happen. What an extraordinary endorsement to have. They believed in our idea and the generosity and willingness with which they have done this is hugely appreciated.  Thank-you Arts Council England, Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council, Barbour Foundation, Stuart Halbert Foundation, Sir James Knott Trust, Catherine Cookson Charitable Trust, 29th May 1961 Charitable Trust, Garfield Weston Foundation, Foyle Foundation, LNER Customer and Community Fund and those of you who wish to remain anonymous.

Photo credit: BBC 6 Music