EJN Staff Exchange Programme

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Previous participant: Tamsin Austin

From: Sage Gateshead (UK)
To: North Sea Jazz Festival (Netherlands)
13 - 15 July 2018

My name is Tamsin Austin, I am Director of Programming at Sage Gateshead, a world class concert hall and music centre in the North East of England run by North Music Trust a charity and Music North Limited, our trading arm. Sage Gateshead has three main performance spaces which hold 1600, 500 and 300 and we deliver over 450 concerts per year across all of our programmes. We produce three/four festivals in house per year: Gateshead International Jazz Festival, SummerTyne Americana Festival, Folk on the Tyne (a folk festival) and New Year New Artists (a festival of emerging artists across genre). This summer we have also produced 80 days of additional programming and festival activity as part of the Great Exhibition of the North including: The Great Northern Soundtrack (A series of concerts by artists connected with the North of England, co-curated with 6 Music DJ Lauren Laverne)  commissioning a major digital installation into our main foyer space (Protomusic #1 by Mark Fell), commissioning a film for young people and families (Bridges by Ed Carter) and commissioning a new performance piece (poetry, music and film) called Backbone of our Land which explores themes of identity and place in the North of England in the context of Brexit. Sage Gateshead is also home to Royal Northern Sinfonia, the UKs only full time, salaried chamber orchestra which performs both at home, right across our region and internationally.  We also work in partnership to deliver a number of other festivals each year.
Our performance programme crosses a wide range of popular and contemporary music and traditional music. North Music Trust who run all programmes at Sage Gateshead was established in 2004 and was originally an amalgamation of two separate organisations, Northern Sinfonia (chamber orchestra) and Folkworks (A folk music development agency) who, once re-established as North Music Trust, expanded their mission to promote a full range of popular and contemporary music at Sage Gateshead and reach a much wider audience and brought in more staff to develop this. At the core of our programme are still classical and folk music, however we now have very well established Jazz, Americana, indie, rock and electronic music programmes as well as a wide range of popular artists playing the venue. The programmes have been developed by North Music Trust and now serve over 500,000 audiences and participants each year.
As an independent music centre and concert hall, we produce a high proportion of our activity in house including our festivals. We promote over 60% of our total Popular & Contemporary Programme in house with the rest coming in via a range of external promoters. Since 2004 our Jazz programme has been led by former Programme Director Ros Rigby, a specialist in jazz programming. Since her departure from the organisation in 2016 we have been reviewing how we go forward with our Jazz programme development and our annual festival and also our workforce development to deliver this. Part of my wider consult and research on this was attending North Sea Jazz festival as part of the EJN staff development scheme for which I am very grateful. 
We are reviewing our festival model and looking for ways to make them sustainable for the future in a climate of reduced public funding. Currently our house produced festivals at Sage Gateshead require investment. The financial model is to aim to secure three main headline concerts over one weekend which generate significant revenue to offset investment in the programming of smaller spaces, free stage activity and commissioning and support artist development.  North Music Trust has a bottom line fundraising approach so in the past, significant sponsorship has not gone directly to festival however we are exploring different approaches to this. 
Attending North Sea Jazz was an incredible opportunity to see how another organisation is delivering a major festival.
General comments:
North Sea Jazz Festival is really impressive. Travel to the site is very easy, even for international attendees and the first thing that strikes you is the massive city-wide engagement across Rotterdam as soon as you leave the railway station.
Once on site at Rotterdam Ahoy, admission is very well organised and a wrist band and search system on entry to the site, then enables you to move around the festival easily, between all concerts, the marketplace and exhibitions, without additional ticketing, apart from a small number of premium concerts. The fact that it IS all on one site is fantastic, no trekking around across a city and no massive queues. 
What is incredible and notable is how the audiences self regulate between the many different sized spaces. It appears to be a dedicated and committed audience that know the festival very well. They are 35-65, mostly white, affluent and probably middle class and VERY engaged. Stats: Total capacity for the event is 75,000 across the three days.
Over the course of the two days myself and my colleague Polly Woodbridge were able to attend 25 performances. Due to pressures of time, we had to miss Sunday and return to the UK to deliver our own SummerTyne Americana Festival the following weekend. However we managed to squeeze in:
The Ojays – really tight, fantastic band!
Snarky/Metropole Orch
Phillip Ruttgers commission with Oene van geele, Heidi Heidelberg - Hans Christian Anderson fairytales
Ruthie Foster w/ big band
Durand Jones – Soul/funk
Kaija Draksler – Improv.
Dinosaur – (as great as ever!)
Stanley Clarke – surprise of the night, mindblowing jazz fusion
Slowly Rolling Cameras – very cinematic