Anthony Sergant
Tom Keighley

Member Article

Bdaily talks to Anthony Sargent of The Sage

Anthony Sargent has had an illustrious career to date; spanning time as a concert planning manager for the BBC, Artist Projects Manager of London?s Southbank Centre, and Head of Arts for Birmingham City Council. Since 2000, Anthony has been at the helm of the North East?s epicentre of musical performance, The Sage Gateshead, as director. Bdaily caught up with him to find out what goes into the running of an internationally renowned music venue.

?I get more involved in the detail than you would probably think. Every morning at 10 o?clock we have a briefing, where we review the previous 24 hours and look forward to the following 24 hours.“ Anthony likes to be hands-on in his leadership, and is acutely aware of the need to live up to the prestige and reputation that The Sage has garnered since its opening.

?When you have a great volume of paying customers everyday, we have to manage their expectations, so the toilets need to be clean, they shouldn?t queue at the bar for too long, and their coffee shouldn?t be cold. In a sense the expectation builds every day, as the reputation of The Sage develops. It?s important that the public take away a lasting impression of us.“

Given a constant programme of events and streams of visitors, it?s striking that The Sage boasts such an air of tranquility, and of course this is not by accident.

?Most people who visit the Sage do so to relax, so there?s a strange relationship where we must ensure that all the frantic management, the strict clock watching, is kept behind the scenes - not to give any sense that it is rushed or challenging.

?They just want to have a seamless experience, be ushered from place to place, and enjoy great performances.

?It?s especially important as we provide an activity that is seen by many as a treat; a place to celebrate an occasion such as a birthday or anniversary, right through to the last day of school. In many cases, people will visit once a year, so we?re sensitive to this.“

The running is a finely tuned engine, where everything must be planned and accounted for to deliver the required experience.

?We can?t afford to be caught out by detail. For instance we are lead by performers, so if a speaker announcement is made before the end of a concert, it could ruin the show.

?All of our watches a synchronised by atomic clock, because there is simply no room for us to have one person a minute behind the next. It would fall apart.

?I spent 13 years working for the BBC, where there is most definitely a tryanny of the clock. If we think we have it hectic here, it really pales in comparison.“

Outside of the house keeping requirements, Anthony has 40 years of concert planning experience internationally, and he has used this knowledge to help guide The Sage, which has become iconic of the region.

How much of the programme reflects his personal taste? ?Of course when I am out an I hear a wonderful pianist or cellist, then I get straight on the email to let the team know we should book them. But I like to let my staff make the choices too. They need room to build their careers, and with my knowledge I can help that.

?I can think of only 2 or 3 cases where we have had the plans laid out, and I?ve said no, I just know that won?t work.? To compliment the performance offerings, a new conference centre is in the planning stages, which highlights the business end of the spectrum within Anthony?s role.

?I love business planning, thinking about how we are going to grow and make money. At the same time it?s important to remember that a few thousand paying customers come through the door each day, so they must be catered for.“

So how do the dynamics of running an arts venue compare to the running of any other business? ?I was speaking to a businessman recently, who said to me that we might share knowledge about utilities costs an such, but ultimately that we are competitors.

?And I disagree with that. Perhaps it would be different if I was selling used cars, but I genuinely want our contemporaries to succeed so that we can continue to make money and offer even better experiences for customers.

?The board of many venues may choose to appoint someone with very little artistic experience, and that can often show.

?You can tell those arts venues that are run by business people, they lack the slightly wild quality that makes it interesting.“

Anthony is genuinely pleased with the success of the Turner prize, hosted at the Baltic. He talks enthusiastically about the arts community in the North East, and how venues can work in a mutually beneficial way.

?It was one thing that struck me when I came up to the region. There?s a certain generosity. Perhaps it?s partly because it?s smaller, and you have one of each type of venue. I really think though, that there is a Northern spirit so to speak, and that?s what I?ve experienced.

?I was thrilled at the success of the Turner at BALTIC, Godfrey (Worsdale, director of BALTIC) did a fantastic job in securing that, and of course we it benefited us because people also visited The Sage, but in terms of the region, it was fantastic.“

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Tom Keighley .

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