Culture in Times of Crisis

Fabian Duss has been the CEO of the MAAG Music & Arts AG since mid-December 2019. He was granted exactly two and a half months of “business as usual”, before Covid-19 came along and promoted him to crisis manager. We caught up with him to ask what happens now and what we can do to support the MAAG.

Mr Duss, what was it like when the government ordered the 1,000-person limit?
Fabian Duss: It was the 28th of February at 10.30 in the morning. That evening we had the AnnenMayKantereit concert scheduled in the indoor stadium and in the shortest possible time we had to contact 10,000 to 12,000 people, some of whom were coming from abroad and were already making their way to Zurich. But it wasn’t just the audience we had to inform, but also the stagehands, set builders, security, the medical care team – everyone was put on standby. And from that point on it was just blow after blow.

And then came lockdown…
Exactly, during lockdown we had to close the Van Gogh Alive exhibition. After the lockdown, we were able to re-open, with strict safety measures in place, of course, and with a maximum of only 100 instead of 250 people. What many people may not know, the MAAG Music & Arts AG is not only the MAAG Halle here on the Prime Tower Site, but we also host over 100 concerts every year, which take place in different locations. We are temporary users in the MAAG and Halle 622 in Oerlikon. We have made significant investments in both venues and have devised an ambitious amortization plan. That creates massive pressure.

How will the MAAG withstand this pressure?
We MAAGians are extremely decisive, we considered where our opportunities lay, what we could do. So, in an incredibly short time frame, we came up with new formats in terms of exhibitions. Over the summer, we held the Black Art Matters exhibition in the MAAG Halle, in which we presented art from black photographers. And in Halle 622 in Oerlikon, until the 1st of November you can see the exhibition Tutankhamun – His Tomb and His Treasures. We were able to bring the exhibition to Switzerland so quickly thanks to our good network. The preparation of such a large-scale exhibition usually takes at least a year – we managed it in just eight weeks. That’s what I call the SME-mentality, internally we call it the MAAG-Gen.

We are always on the lookout for opportunities and trying new things. Staying still was never an option for us. Another innovation is our “Nights at the Museum” with Tutankhamun. Each Saturday evening, you can explore the exhibition in the dark, equipped with a flashlight. An unforgettable experience for the whole family!

Alongside the exhibitions, you have devised some exciting gastro-concepts. Tell us more about that!
One is our beautiful summer garden ZUM FRISCHEN MAX at Oerlikon Station, which invites you to linger, whether it’s over lunch or for the evening. The summer garden is open daily in dry weather until the end of September. We have also opened something new in Frau Gerold’s garden: The Braschler Bar is a kind of outdoor hotel bar offering what is likely the largest selection of champagne and sparkling wines in the city of Zurich. Anyone who likes high balls and bubbles is sure to feel right at home. What makes it special is the Speakeasy concept, meaning, we aren’t advertising it, everything is done through word of mouth. This means that the Braschler Bar is (still) a fantastic hidden gem – and is staying open over the winter months.

That sounds super, but hand on heart. What is the current situation?
We are still experiencing a lot of uncertainty, with events organisers as well as with guests.

Corporate events are being postponed or cancelled. It is an extremely difficult situation for the MAAG at the moment, with events falling by the wayside and the absence of the usual flow of visitors. There is an immense amount of pressure on us. Of course, it doesn’t just affect us as the MAAG, but also many subcontractors and partners with whom we work closely, cleaning companies, technology firms, security companies, medical services, catering companies. The business lost by the MAAG is also lost to our suppliers.

Right now, it is very difficult to make plans. But we ask anyway: What does the program look like for the next few months?
Due to high demand, we will bring back the immersive Van Gogh Alive exhibition from mid October until the end of the year: Over 3,000 Van Gogh paintings will be beamed by around 40 projectors in the MAAG Halle. Visitors move amongst the paintings and undertake a voyage of discovery through the life of the unique painter. Then in spring 2021 – for its 25th anniversary – a new production of the musical Space Dream is coming to the MAAG Halle.

To finish, what can we do to support the MAAG?
I always say: A little less Netflix, choose more live cultural experiences instead! (he laughs)

For us it is of course important that the attractions are visited. The exhibition Van Gogh Alive, for example, can be easily visited during a lunch hour or after work.

20% Discount on Van Gogh Alive
From 16.10 until 30.12.2020, experience the successful multimedia-exhibition Van Gogh Alive in the MAAG Halle. With the Promo code PT20VGA, all newsletter subscribers can enjoy a 20% discount.
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