10 Questions: Abigail Pogson

December 1, 2015

Abigail Pogson has been managing director of Sage Gateshead for the past six months. She is engaged to move the organisation into its second decade and to ensure that it continues to be a valuable creative resource to the North East. Prior to arriving in Gateshead she ran other music charities, working in music and opera, completed an MA in Cultural Management and was a Fellow on the Clore Leadership Programme

What was your first break in business?

I met the then director of learning for Glyndebourne, Katie Tearle, on a train one day. I was doing an MA in Cultural Management and had to do a secondment. She agreed for me to do it with her team and it proved a formative experience – learning the value of arts education, working collaboratively and for the long term.

What did you want to be growing up?

I didn’t really know, but I have always been engaged in the arts throughout my life. The maternal side of my family were culturally engaged as audience members – and that instilled a habit. I just happened to follow that through university and to my working life.

What attracted you to your current role?

I have watched the Sage Gateshead project throughout its life from afar. It has been a game-changer in the UK, particularly for the way it sets performance, participation and learning alongside each other as equal parts of the organisation’s central mission.

What is Sage Gateshead’s mission?

To enrich people’s lives through music. Our aim is to deliver international quality while having deep roots into our communities.

How do you get the best out of your team?

Support a conversation about where we’re going, narrate the journey, challenge and encourage everyone upwards and outwards. Working in the creative sector is a huge privilege – it’s an opportunity to work with hugely skilled, creative, committed people. It’s not always an easy job but it’s extremely enjoyable.

What has been your career highlight?

It feels as if they come thick and fast, but they are not necessarily about my career; more highlights of projects I happen to be involved in. Recently at Sage Gateshead we had The John Wilson Orchestra in Sage One and Co-Musica Frequency – a group of young local rappers who have come through our Youth Participation Programme – in Sage Two, while in our Music Education Centre, Folkworks Tuesdays filled 25 workshop and practice rooms with music making for all ages. The building was heaving with creative talent – and that was just one day.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Right now, the role of the arts is changing fast in a number of ways. The balance in how live and digital arts activities knit together is one major factor. Another is the increasing recognition of the role that the arts can play within communities to address specific challenges.

Who or what inspires you?

Artists – the risk which an artist takes when they step on stage in front of an audience or create a new piece of music is hugely inspiring. What gets them to that place is often years of training and practice, a deeply honed craft, a creative vision and a network of people collaborating with them. What we all need in life really. I lived with that moment of stepping on stage in front of an audience day in, day out, in my very first job at English National Opera, where I was part of the team who looked after artists and I would stand in the wings as shows went up most evenings. It left me with a huge respect for what artists do and that has been a thread through my work since.

What are your organisation’s short and long-term goals?

Short-term – to ensure that as many people as possible in the North East can access performances, participate in and learn music. We can be lots of different things to lots of different people. Long-term – we want to continue doing relevant things for people and their evolving needs. The sorts of things we’re looking at right now is our digital work, the potential we can offer our region by having the best chamber orchestra in the country, collaborations with partners to make the arts available to as many people as possible and how we create the circumstances in which talented artists want to stay in the region.

How do you achieve a good work/life balance?

Whatever I’m doing, I’m committed 100 per cent. Then move on to the next thing. I rarely need to find a balance.


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