Sage Gateshead reveals stark figures about the impact of Covid on arts in England’s North East

One of Britain’s largest and most prestigious arts venues, Sage Gateshead, has published its 2019/20 Annual Review, revealing disturbing figures on the effects of the pandemic

Sage Gateshead’s report, which overlaps the Covid lockdown by just two weeks, shows just how life has changed for people in the North East of England over the last year. Until mid-March 2020, the Sage had hosted a quarter of a million ticket-holders at over 500 concerts and welcomed 430,863 visitors to the building. Its support for freelance musicians came through 243 visiting artists, including 77 showcases for new talent through its Artist Development programme.

In the year leading up to the lockdown, the venue delivered over 3000 Make Music classes, worked with 222 schools in the region, and gave instruments, arts awards and qualifications to over 5000 weekly class participants. Its 257 free community events enhanced the lives of over 20,000 people. 60% of the Sage’s income came from live concerts, classes and events. This almost completely ended in March 2020.

The Sage as a building has been closed for almost all of the last year with 90 percent of its staff furloughed. Despite government support, the loss of income has been crippling, with a 2020/21 predicted loss of £10 million. Yet it has continued to provide online classes and concerts and learned a great deal about performance and learning in the digital environment. So, Sage Gateshead trustees have launched a three-year campaign to raise £3 million and a major recovery plan.

Key elements of the plan include investing in the digital technology to build on what the centre has learned from its online programme during lockdown, creating a new vision for its orchestra, the Royal Northern Sinfonia, and creating a new creative hub for artists to meet, collaborate and experiment.

The Sage also plans to use its assets to help young people in the North East recover, creating a unified arts and music learning programme, re-purposing the Sage Two hall as a year-round centre for developing young musical talent and investing in the digital learning environment.

As Sage Gateshead Managing Director Abigail Pogson said, ‘Arts and culture can and should play a vital role in Covid-recovery: in re-establishing social connections, in uplifting and creating hope, in improving mental health and wellbeing, in drawing people to city, town and village centres, in creating jobs and in helping us make sense of a confusing and complex world.

‘This will be at a time when communities in the North need us more than ever, and we want to have the ability to meaningfully respond. Music plays a vital role in improving health and wellbeing, education and learning, and in creative positive, shared experiences. We want to retain and support the wealth of musical talent across the region for the benefit of all.’