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Culture crisis: How professional magicians get through the corona pandemic

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Axel Hecklau is a successful professional magician. He runs the “Cabinet of Curiosities” in Berlin and has been on the market for two decades. As the vice world champion of salon magic, he is also known internationally. Since the pandemic, Hecklau has been offering a virtual magic show on Zoom – a tool that he was not yet familiar with in March 2020. Meanwhile, his show has established itself with a mixture of digital and analog magic. Hecklau also makes money through an online magic shop.

Hide everything for a moment and let yourself be carried away into other spheres: That creates magic. But times are hard for magic. The stages are closed, the cultural and creative scene is threatened with bloodletting. This is particularly noticeable in the world’s cultural metropolises, which, according to a study by the Hertie School and the TU Berlin, support culture and creative people with varying degrees of success. But even the artists themselves have different approaches to survival.

2020: 83 percent fewer appearances and thus earnings for magicians

Professional magicians experienced the greatest crisis of their careers in 2020. Their live performances dropped by a good 83 percent compared to 2019. With this they lost more than 80 percent of their income on average, according to a study by Carsten Baumgarth, professor for brand management at the Berlin University of Economics and Law (HWR).

Baumgarth looked at how professional magicians, who are often on the road as small artists, deal with the crisis. He published his study “Survival strategies of magicians” together with the Magical Circle of Germany (MZvD). Baumgarth is a member of the circle himself. He has been doing magic since his youth, which is how he earned his studies. Most magicians are not doing as well as he is as a university professor.

“No chance in the public eye”

Baumgarth emphasized that it was demonstrably not necessary to close theaters or opera houses. In a press conference in which he presented his study on February 15, he referred to the low risk of infection in cultural sites. But culture had “no chance in the public perception of hairdressers, for example,” Baumgarth continued.

According to the study, professional magicians countered their threatened existence through the lockdown in four ways: with the reduction of costs, with perseverance, with innovations or with the exit, the change to a “civil profession”.

The four solutions were of different importance in 2020. Many wizards were able to reduce their costs, especially in the first lockdown. You gave notice to employees or rented rooms. Perseverance was also easier at first: magicians resorted to savings or funding from friends, family or loans. Baumgarth’s study shows that innovations or the exit were not an issue for many in the first lockdown. Innovations include switching to new magic formats such as zoom shows or offering new products. The exit means switching to non-magic jobs.

As the year progressed, most wizards’ situation deteriorated. “The longer the lockdown lasts, the more likely those affected think about innovations and exit strategies,” says Baumgarth.

People are willing to pay for online culture

Advantage for the magic guild: those interested in culture in Germany are loyal to culture in the pandemic. 72 percent of people who spent money on virtual participation in cultural events during lockdown would continue to do so afterwards. That was the result of a study by the British “Economist”. 82 percent would even be willing to pay more money later for live participation.

Could the pandemic bring new sources of income for creatives? This question, which is also hidden in the “Innovations” solution strategy in Baumgarth’s study, gives at least half of the Germans a positive answer: 56 percent today think that meaningful events are also possible online. Wizards could benefit from this.

90 percent of the magicians surveyed by Baumgarth were active on stage as the main branch of magic. They earned their living with performances in the theater and cabaret, private events and in corporate and gala business. The fall has been correspondingly deep since the pandemic. The income of many magicians from performing live has fallen to practically zero.

“Handmade miracles are analog and not digital”

While he has bet on innovation and achieved success with it, other magicians prefer the exit. This is not only due to their economic situation. Personality also decides. Quite a few magicians at Baumgarth’s press conference stated that they would rather experience a direct exchange with the audience. “Hand-made miracles are analog and not digital,” as one put it.

The good education of magicians could make it easier for them to temporarily switch to a normal job: 40 percent of those surveyed by Baumgarth have completed a degree, almost 50 percent an apprenticeship.

From the change to the “civil profession”

The Munich magician Benedikt Profanowsky will rely on two pillars in the future. He works as a magician and as a paramedic. He is just finishing his training. “Sometimes life just takes a detour,” he says at the press conference. He chose this additional training because he enjoyed dealing with people – and has done magic before people with health problems.

The Baden-Württemberg magician Markus Zink has also found a second job in part-time. The trained teacher, who has been doing magic since he was nine, now works part-time at a vocational school. He currently teaches in a vocational school class three days a week in the vocational preparation year. Zink notices the saving power of card tricks and other magic in the young people in his class. One effect of his wizard exit: magic unexpectedly reaches many more people.

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