“Whereas magic is an art form with the unique power and potential to impact the lives of all people; Whereas magic enables people to experience the impossible; Whereas magic is used to inspire and bring wonder and happiness to others …”
So begins House Resolution 642 — “Recognising magic as a rare and valuable art form and national treasure” — brought this week by Rep. Pete Sessions, a Republican from Texas, with the support of seven congressional co-sponsors.
The office of Rep. Dan Donovan, a Republican from New York, was quick to defend the resolution in a statement to ABC:
Congressman Donovan spent three hours today chairing a hearing to examine the impacts of President Obama’s proposed homeland security funding cuts, and three minutes reading a bill that says magic is entertaining. Of course media outlets are choosing to cover the latter, and that’s why people are so fed up.
But Sessions’ resolution is about a lot more than just entertainment to those who helped push for it. Tracing the story behind the resolution leads to a century-old magic society, David Copperfield, and a passionate Texas mayor.
“When I was a kid, I was an introvert,” Eric Hogue told Business Insider. “And [magic] brought me out of that. I always tell people that if I hadn’t had magic, I wouldn’t be the mayor.”
Eric Hogue isn’t just the mayor of Wylie, Texas — a city within Sessions’ district — he’s a fervent magic enthusiast, former clown, and a member of the Society of American Magicians (SAM), which says it has been seeking congressional recognition of magic as an art form since the 1960s.
Dal Sanders, who served as SAM’s president in 2013 and 2014, reached out to Hogue about the group’s push for artistic recognition. Hogue spoke to Sessions and, after a near-miss thanks to the government shutdown in 2013, Sessions read a statement “In Recognition of the Art of Magic” into the congressional record in April of 2014.
But someone helped convince Hogue that the statement alone would not be enough.
“I have a friend, he’s a magician in Las Vegas,” Hogue said. “His name is David Copperfield.”
Copperfield is likely America’s most successful magician and, as an ambassador for SAM, he joined the battle for recognition.
“It’s a genuine art form that can inspire the next generation of dreamers,” Copperfield told Business Insider. “We looked at the fact that it took many, many years for jazz to become an art form recognised by the US government,” Copperfield said, referring to a 1987 resolution “expressing the sense of Congress respecting the designation of jazz as a rare and valuable national American treasure.”
Copperfield and SAM argue that official recognition would help magicians trying to get grants to support their work — something that is difficult to do now, when magic is often considered a “hobby” and thus ineligible for grants earmarked for bona fide art forms.
Doug Henning, the Canadian magician who starred in the musical “The Magic Show” on Broadway in the 1970s, had studied magic on a grant from Canadian Council for the Arts, is something of a model for what SAM hopes could happen in the US.
“It’s safe to say that David and I both had input into it,” Hogue said of the bill, noting that he helped add details that Sessions wouldn’t have known about, like the fact that Leonardo da Vinci “co-wrote one of the very first books on magic in the late 15th century.”
As for Copperfield’s contribution to the bill, which mentions him by name eight times, Copperfield defers: “Really it was [Hogue and Sessions’] work,” he said. “It was very flattering to have enough things to put in there that would give resonance to the fact that magic can be taken seriously on many different levels.”
Copperfield called the bill’s references to his career an “amazing honour” and a dream.
The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and does not yet have a date set for a vote.
But even if the bill passes, American magicians might have to seek out non-governmental sources for funding. A spokeswoman for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) confirmed there is currently no funding category or program for magic. However, that spokesperson noted that, even if the resolution were to pass, the NEA would require additional congressional authorization to create any new programs.
Hogue, however, doesn’t worry about the bill’s “naysayers.” The resolution already enjoys bipartisan support thanks to cosponsorship by Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat who hosts a Youtube series on magic and Washington.
“A lot of people might not know this, but when I was younger, I helped pay for college working as a magician,” Pocan told Business Insider in a statement. “Rep. Sessions’s resolution seeks to recognise magic for the positive impact it has on society, something I feel very strongly about.”
“We’re 40 years late getting to the party,” Hogue said, referring to SAM’s decades-long fight for recognition, “but we’re sure thankful to be there.”
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