SXSW Will Go On Despite Coronavirus Concerns

The Frame


Welcome to the frame. I'm John Horn every year. A few hundred thousand people gathered in Austin Texas for south by southwest. It's an international festival of music film and Technology but with the threat of the corona virus at hand. Some people are saying that bringing massive crowds into one place could be a very bad idea. Facebook twitter Amazon and a few other tech and media companies. Already have dropped out of the festival which starts on March thirteenth. South by southwest organizers. Say they're nevertheless moving ahead. Dan Sullivan is a writer for Texas monthly and he joins us from Austin Dan. Welcome to the show for having me so before we get into the impact of the corona virus. Let's talk a little bit about just. How big south by South West is in terms of its physical presence in Austin? How much are people's lives affected when the festival comes to town? Well it's huge. It takes over a giant chunk of the city several miles especially the downtown area but also beyond that it does have a huge impact. Let's talk about some health. Concerns from people who live in Austin and online petition calling for a total cancellation of south by southwest. West has more than forty thousand signatures. I've been to south by southwest. It's been a number of years but like any popular gathering. There are a lot of people in a lot of lines it can be getting into a movie can be getting into a club getting into a restaurant. You are very much cheek to jowl with a lot of your fellow festival guests and I guess that's something that a lot of people might be concerned about. It's not just that you're inside venue with a lot of people. But they're massive crowds basically wherever you go on all the streets and a lot of public spaces. Yeah that is a very real part of the concern is that it's just going to put a lot of people in close quarters. The festival did talk today about potentially encouraging people to be further physically apart from each other whether that means capping the capacity at venues or starting a standing in line protocol. I don't know specifically but it's something that seemed to be aware of the head of twitter. Jack Dorsey was scheduled to speak but he's since cancelled. Because of the company's concerns about the corona virus in fact twitter said in a statement that it was cancelling all quote non critical business travel and events unquote. Who else has bowed out so far. We've seen twitter facebook Amazon Amazon Entertainment Amazon studios when out today. Tick Tock went out today. A measurable which usually has a pretty sizeable south by South West presence. Cancel yesterday. There's probably more to. We're talking with Texas monthly writer. Dan Solomon about south by southwest and concerns over the corona virus. I WanNa talk a little bit about the economic impact of south by southwest. Obviously there are a lot of hotels and restaurants that benefit but it seems from your own reporting. There are a lot of smaller businesses. That really rely on south by Southwest Festival didn't happen they'd be in a big amount of trouble. Yeah that's absolutely true. One thing that it's kind of hard to break apart is south by southwest rise with the rise of Austin Austin city of that is rapidly growing population and that growth has coincided with the rise of south by southwest. And so you've seen a lot of people and a lot of businesses that factor south by South West heavily into their business models. So you've got caterers. Who opened up operations because they knew that every march they could pay a third of their monthly bills. Off of one week I talked to all sorts of people who have jobs that you wouldn't think of as a south by southwest thing carpenters and pedicab drivers and people who rent Porta potties. And all of those people really do count on South by southwest as a huge part of their annual income. I think it's also important to note that south by southwest can be an important launching point for musical acts and for movies right now. I think there's about one hundred world premiere films including new movies from Judd Appetito. There's a documentary. About the Beastie Boys New King Arthur movie with Patel. I'm wondering in terms of its impact in the conversation about art and artists. How important would you say south by southwest has become? It's huge. I mean especially. The film festival has been growing every year and people like John. Appetite Tau like if he can't premier his movie at South by southwest any other film festival in the world would be happy to have him but there are a lot of people who get a benefit from small filmmakers independent filmmakers short filmmakers who get a benefit from premiering their phone at the same festival judd appetite out of festival with the prestige of south by southwest. And that would be. It'd be really difficult for people who are counting on that premiere to make connections to launch their careers to lose it as far as musicians. Go The festival itself doesn't pay very well but there are all of these events. Historically that happened around the festival often paid for by companies like Amazon and facebook and twitter. Who Get pretty good paychecks? And you'll see bands who wrote their entire tours around going south by South West so they can play. Fourteen shows in Austin that week including official showcase and without that economy happening it really does have a huge disruptive effect on a lot of Art Creativity. That's at the core of the festival the organizers of MIB TV which was set for later this month in France just cancelled that annual television convention. I'm wondering if you have any idea of what the organizers of south by southwest are trying to wrestle with now what is the balance they're trying to strike? I mean. I think that they do have a real concern. Certainly the city of Austin has a real concern if it makes more sense to have everything under the control of south by southwest which can at least institute hand washing protocols and recommended safe distances and have some authority over the people who who come to town for the festival versus just having sort of a chaos festival because all of those bands who booked their tors to Austin. Most of them are hand to Mouth. Starts Musicians. Who CAN'T AFFORD TO CANCEL? Literally they already took time off of work. They're going to be coming anyway. You know people who aren't traveling on badges people who are just coming to south by South West to have a good time a lot of them are still gonna come so I think that a big part of the concern right now is. Is it more useful for south by South West to continue to have control over what happens in Austin or is it more useful to just say everybody stay home? This isn't a safe place to be. And I think that they're legitimately struggling with that. And I'm sure there are also struggling with some very real financial considerations it will be hard to me bound from cancelling something that they've worked on all year. I think that there's a real resistance to that. Just because this is all they do south by southwest project of another organization. They put on this festival for ten days in March and having to cancel it just days before it's supposed to begin. It's supposed to start a week from Friday. I think that's something that they're just resistant to do. Because they've been working on it for a year then Solomon is a writer for Texas monthly. He joined us from Austin Dan. Thanks so much for coming on the

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