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All grown up

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This week Sage Gateshead turns 18. Our mould-breaking international centre for music on the banks of the Tyne comes of age. Hello adulthood!

But what a time to become an adult. Amid strikes and freezing weather, 17th December 2022 feels like a very different place from 17th December 2004. We’re in a complex, challenging and confusing time. And yet, like all of us who have lived through the past 18 years, the charity is determined to keep fighting for a positive future. Sage Gateshead is driven with the knowledge that people coming together in creative environments can find solutions in even the most hostile circumstances.

As many of us often do with a landmark birthday, I recently looked back through our first chapter, past Anohni, Bob Geldoff, Beverley Knight, Elbow, Jamie Cullum, Morrissey, Sam Fender, Sigur Ros, Sting, Sir Simon Rattle, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and the many, many other extraordinary musicians who have played our stages.

25 years ago, the region had a belief that culture could support positive change. It was right. Since the late Queen opened our revolving Foster + Partner doors in 2004, Sage Gateshead has contributed £0.5bn into the North East economy. We’ve welcomed 10 million visitors (roughly the population of Sweden) and sold 7.2 million tickets (that’s all of Bulgaria, if I’m carrying on in that vein, but I promise I’ll stop there). Ten thousand musicians received support from our charity and 2 million young people and adults were enabled to participate in music activity.

People have looked from across the world at how to break the mould of being an international centre for music. That’s because we’ve strived to be equally focused on bringing world-class performance to the widest possible audience in the region as we are to making music education available for young people. We’ve worked hard to build deep connections with communities while also supporting the current and next generation of musicians.

Our story so far is made up of millions of individual stories – memories made, friendships formed, family ties reinforced, skills developed, wellbeing improved, careers launched, education progressed.

We’re not alone in our city or region: from our neighbour BALTIC, across the river in Newcastle and over to Sunderland, Darlington, Berwick, Middlesbrough, culture is at the heart of the major positive changes in the North East.

In Sage Gateshead’s 18 years our city and our region have transformed. They’re very different physically, in technology, in our population’s diversity, in our tourism and profile compared with 18 years ago.  And more broadly, our country’s music and music-making are celebrated worldwide. Creativity is one key to our global success.

As we recover from the pandemic, we need to look ahead to the next 18 years and imagine the next transformation we want to make happen. Culture and the arts will play a big part in that, as they have in the past two decades.

Massive changes are needed in our country to create an inclusive, positive, prosperous future – in our education system, in our health and social care systems, in environmental policy, in digital development and in our transport infrastructure. As we crunch through Covid-recovery, we all see the need for fundamental change if we’re going to properly face the 21st century. But the route through is less clear.

The arts and culture can play a pivotal role in creating the future we want and need.

Across the region, those of us involved in culture are determined to contribute to a positive future. We cannot accept decline. We know we’ll need to pull coalitions together to make this happen – communities, audiences, philanthropists, business and local and central government. If we continue to work together culture can play its part in the next chapter of this region.

For our part, starting next year – with a new identity and name –  we’ll renew our pledges to the region. We want to ensure the quality of music brought here and made here rivals anywhere in Europe. We want to ensure everyone in the North East can experience great live music if they want to – and that being able to pay for a ticket won’t be a barrier. And we want to ensure people across the entire region will have access to music education.

The future we imagine together should be one in which the North East is known for its cultural life and for the way this contributes to a fairer, economically vibrant and socially cohesive region – a place for everyone.

But what of right now?

It’s striking to us that we’re marking this 18th birthday at Christmas. And it’s the first Christmas where people are back together without Covid-related restrictions. Inside our building and across the region, Sage Gateshead is in full-on Christmas mode with Candlelight and Nativity programmes from Carlisle to Sunderland, Home Alone, The Snowman, Christmas Cabaret, Handel’s Messiah.

Young people are performing end of year shows in our building, and we have community events across our programme.  Because we want as many people as possible to enjoy this time of year with us,1500 of our tickets this Christmas are £2.50 and £5. Music creates joy and celebration – and we all need a bit of that just now.

As we start looking to 2023 and beyond, one thing stands out. Everything that’s happened so far happened through collective endeavour – so many people contributing to the charity as audience members, musicians, team members, volunteers, donors, and champions. Thank you all. We got here together.

We may have reached 18, but as the saying goes, we’ve only just begun. Let’s continue creating the future together.

This article was first published in The Journal on Friday 16 December, 2022 to mark Sage Gateshead’s 18th Birthday.


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