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Fraser Anderson, Sage Gateshead highlights how we can revive the Cultural and Arts sectors in the North East post-covid

 

This week's five questions are with Fraser Anderson, Director of External Relations and Strategic Development at Sage Gateshead, an international music centre and renowned conference and event venue located in the North East of England. It is for artists, for audiences and for the North.

What has been the impact of the crisis on the Arts and Cultural sector?

The most publicly visible impact of the crisis is that our performing and cultural gathering places have gone dark. But behind each and every organisation there’s a different story.

Most not-for-profit arts and culture organisations split their income into three broad categories – earned, which is income from ticket sales and other commercial activity; contributed, which is income from donations; and statutory, which is income from government.

Sage Gateshead is particularly reliant on earned income; this helps to support our building, our people, and our charitable activity. We are a large cultural institution that welcomes over 2 million people each year through our doors, we are one of the largest employers in Gateshead, and last year we worked with 30,000 young people.

Our earned income stopped overnight when the crisis hit, and it will take months, if not years, for levels to recover. This means the financial impact on us is, and will continue to be, very significant. Without support, the work of our organisation will be radically reduced. We are moving heaven and earth to shore up our work, and that’s why we’ve launched a three-year, £3 million fundraising campaign.

There’s also been an emotional impact. The arts help society and individuals to make sense of the world, they heal people, and they rebuild communities. What we do creates tangible benefits whether people engage directly or not, improving mental health, educational attainment and social cohesion, for example. Right now, our ability to perform this role is severely curtailed. During a time of national crisis and recovery, all our instincts tell us to start creating and performing again, but for the most part that’s simply impossible. Being without that capacity has been difficult to come to terms with.

The government’s recently announced support package is very welcome news.It’s a hugely important part of the jigsaw puzzle that will ensure our recovery, but it’s only one element. We still have a huge amount of work to do as an organisation, and our fundraising efforts remain urgent.

How does the impact compare to other regions?

This crisis has shone a light on existing inequalities across our country. The North East faces long-term economic and social challenges that are well understood. As we stare down a relatively short path towards a potential worsening of existing regional inequalities, we think this is a moment to make change.

Whilst the arts and culture sector has specific needs and generates particular value, in one important sense we are no different to other sectors of the regional economy. What happens next in terms of investment in the North East will be of pivotal importance to us. Across the world there are countless examples of arts and culture being an essential, if not determining, factor in a city or region’s economic and cultural regeneration.

Sage Gateshead, along with the region’s other arts organisations and artists, has to be part of any meaningful and sustainable future for the economy and the people of the North East.

Why do Arts and Culture matter socially, culturally, and economically?

The cultural sector generates £32 billion for the UK economy each year, as part of the wider creative industries which contribute £111 billion (£306 million a day) and, until Covid-19 stopped the performing arts in their tracks, grew five times faster than the economy as whole. In the North East and across the country, the arts and culture sector is an engine for growth. It also attracts inward investment, jobs, highly skilled workers and tourism.

During our first 15 years Sage Gateshead alone has contributed £500 million to the North East economy.

But what we do is about more than economic growth. Engagement in arts and culture improves health: 60% of people who attend cultural events report good health and it has a positive impact on people living with dementia. It can also improve mental health. Young people who engage in arts and culture are twice as likely to volunteer in their communities as those who don’t and are 20% more likely to vote as young adults. Their employability is higher, and they are more likely to stay in employment.There is strong evidence that participation in arts and culture contributes to community cohesion, reduces social isolation and makes communities feel safer and stronger.

It is well known that engaging in arts and culture – particularly structured music – at school is good for young people’s attainment in maths, English and science. Children of low-income families who participate in arts and culture at school are three times more likely to gain a degree than those who don’t.

Sage Gateshead symbolises regeneration and rejuvenation in a part of England blighted by loss of heavy industry and by years of neglect. Our amazing building, as much an instantly recognisable icon of the North as the Tyne Bridge or the Angel of the North, sits proudly on the south bank of the Tyne, mirroring the optimism and seriousness of the Festival of Britain, embodied in its own south bank concert hall.

What does the sector need to recover and importantly, survive long term?

It needs financial investment and certainty about how and when it can reopen.

What can businesses do to support the sector through and following this crisis?

Supporting our three-year £3 million Crisis, Recovery and Renaissance fundraising campaign is one way. We understand not all businesses can support by making a donation, but you may be able to advocate for us, or connect us to those who can support.

For those who can give, you will not just be supporting one of the region’s great cultural institutions, you will be helping to create a happier, healthier and higher skilled population.

You may also be able simply to offer us advice or expertise. If you can help in any way, please get in touch with us. One of our directors, Fraser Anderson, would love to hear from you at fraser.anderson@sagegateshead.com.