Sarah Hopwood, Director of Finance and Resources
When Sarah Hopwood arrived at Glyndebourne ten years ago she remembers, “it was quite a shock to the system”. However it didn’t take long for her to feel at home “There’s a real buzz about Glyndebourne. Ten years on I still love listening to people talk about their reactions to the show.”
Sarah is a chartered accountant by training, having found her feet working in Hong Kong and London for a multinational company before deciding to enter the arts as Glyndebourne’s Director of Finance and Resources in 1997. Her international perspective and business acumen are now helping Glyndebourne to develop fully as a 21st century organisation.
Working in a opera house means that she enjoys a wide remit. It is an opportunity she has embraced. “We do move quickly. Because it's such a small team you do get involved in everything and everyone here is very forward thinking. Once we say we’re going to do something we do it. It is very un-bureaucratic and people here want to be involved and make things happen.”
Sarah loves the openness and flexibility inherent in working in a smaller organisation: “You have ideas and are encouraged to pursue them. There isn’t a mass of bureaucracy to deal with. That’s the way the Christie family are – they’re interested and excited by opportunities.”
Although not a Glyndebourne veteran it wasn’t long before she had taken to the place. “Just talking to the people I met I could tell how passionate they were about Glyndebourne”, she recalls. Sarah still treasures that special family atmosphere which has always made Glyndebourne unique. “I love the fact that everyone who works here is incredibly passionate about the place and I think that’s very driven by the family.”
Back in 1997 Sarah’s background in commerce was unusual in the arts. She has since seen a significant change as Arts organisations have been facing severe financial challenges, creating the need for new audiences and new streams of income. Glyndebourne marketing have recognsed its potential as a content provider and Glyndebournes recent investment in High Definition digital recording and ownership has been spearheaded by Sarah. Since 2002 all recording rights have been fully owned by the company allowing for new distribution and revenue streams.
Last year’s screenings of Glyndebourne productions in mainstream cinemas heralds this new direction. Sarah feels that it is an ideal way to reach new audiences and effectively extend the Glyndebourne season. She has been hugely encouraged by the feedback received from those who attended. “People were amazed by the quality and they sat spellbound at the screening I went to in Brighton,” she recalls.
Planning the Festival program for future seasons is a major financial commitment for Glyndebourne. One of the biggest challenges is balancing the costs which can dramatically vary from one season to the next. “We plan four years ahead and we have to be sure before the artistic team is contracted that we can afford to do what we are contracting them for. We have to be brave and we have to be bold. That means there are some years when we are going to have to accept that we won’t cover our costs in whole that year.”
Balancing artistic and financial pressures is a daily part of Sarah’s job. New work is inevitably more expensive than revivals but Sarah is adamant that it is an essential part of Glyndebourne’s work and she is proud that next year (2009) there will be two new productions.
Sarah’s long term ambition to launch Glyndebourne’s very own CD label has also been realised over the past couple of years. It promises to make the most of an incredible recordings heritage that has laid in storage for decades. That this archive exists at all is down to the hard work and dedication of John Barnes, a friend of the Christie family. Since 1961 he has been using the best technology available to record Glyndebourne performances for prosperity. As Sarah says: “He’s always made sure that his equipment is the best available. So we have incredibly high quality recordings.”
Sarah is proud of her part in trailblazing investment in Glyndebourne’s intellectual property. She has ensured that all recordings of productions are in the best technical state and that the company retains full ownership. This commitment to quality has ensured Glyndebourne’s equity in the ever advancing digital distribution market. “I feel very strongly we have got this incredible brand – and we should be taking it to more people.” Technology has moved on dramatically in recent years and Sarah’s initial leap of faith is clearly paying off. The DVD market will only be one distribution channel for recordings and by forging associations with alternative distribution companies Sarah hopes to expand Glyndebourne ‘s reach even further.
Sarah clearly thrives on making decisions and acting upon them. Her enviable dynamism and tenacity is clearly in tune with the Glyndebourne ethos. As Sarah knows well: “Glyndebourne has always been about innovation and change and new opportunities. We’re a truly international modern theatre.”
What advice would Sarah give to those who want to work in Arts management?
Opportunities are growing for those without an arts background. Sarah sees this culture shift as part of a healthy process of integration: “I think all arts organisations are recognising the need to compete in a competitive environment and that it’s healthy for them to have people around with a different background.
Working in business or law is a great foundation for the arts and I think the crossover is incredibly healthy on both sides. “
Most importantly she encourages students to stay open minded. “I always say to students – keep your options as wide as possible for as long as possible and take every opportunity to broaden your working experience.”
Interview conducted in 2008