A lot of confusion and fear has arisen about the future of unofficial acts at South By Southwest, an annual arts and entertainment festival in Austin, Texas, following a report by an outside event planning company. But, South By Southwest organizers have issued a clarifying statement detailing their true goals.
The confusion followed the publication of a report by Populous, an international design and planning firm, Texas Monthly reported. Populous has a history with designing and planning large events like the Super Bowl. While, the Populous report was done at the request of the South By Southwest festival organizers, this does not mean that the festival organizers will implement all of the company’s proposed changes.
Consequence of Sound reported that some Populous’ recommendations were ““soft searching” (aka frisking) individuals walking on Sixth Street, where a number of music events are held during SXSW; banning unofficial street performers from playing music during the festival; and restricting events that take place in adjacent parking lots.”
The report goes on to recommend the establishment of a so-called “Clean Zone” which would serve to “protects the brand equity of SXSW and its sponsor.” While, the report failed to detail what exactly the “Clean Zone” would be, the local Austin media and others speculated that it might be reminiscent of the Super Bowl’s ban on unofficial events. This struck fear into the hearts of festival attendees and performers, because unofficially sanctioned outdoor events and performances have become a large draw for those who are just attending the festival in Austin for the day.
Another cause for concern, and much speculation, was the Populous report took on the tone that if the proposed changes were not carried out, then the festival would be forced to reevaluate their format, future direction, and location.
According to Consequence of Sound, the report stated the following: “It is very possible that SXSW will have no choice but to entertain notions of bidding their event to other cities to sustain their business model. This would be a serious matter for all parties considering the significant financial impact and returns SXSW provides to the community as well as the contribution to the brand and PR value of the City.”
In light of this report, South By Southwest has issued a clarifying statement that will put all of that fear and speculation to rest.
In this clarifying statement, South By Southwest makes clear that the festival IS NOT trying to ban unofficial events. Instead, the festival is asking the city of Austin to “put alimit on the number of permitsissued for events that require temporary permits, based on location, capacity and infrastructure.”
And, what about a potential relocation?
The South By Southwest statement also nixes that by clarifying, “We’ve been careful not to imply a threat to relocate SXSW, and have also explicitly stated that is not our position numerous times.”
Here is the full statement given by South By Southwest that addresses and clarifies the festival’s stance. It also presents their reasoning for asking the city to limit the number of permits; namely, the main goal is safety for all in attendance.
We’ve been careful not to say anything that implies we’re trying to ban unofficial events because, even if we could, we wouldn’t try to do that. We totally get that unofficial events are part of the appeal of SXSW, though the line between “official” and “unofficial” can be hard to distinguish.
The Populous report is their expert assessment and opinion, not ours, and we agree with most of it, but not all of it. In our own statements we’ve been careful not to imply a threat to relocate SXSW, and have also explicitly stated that is not our position numerous times.
What we’re asking the City to do is put a limit on the number of permits issued for events that require temporary permits, based on location, capacity and infrastructure. The City did that for the first time this past year, and we think it was a common sense move that should be a standard procedure. Parts of 6th Street are severely overcrowded and can’t support more pop-up events. The majority of the unofficial events are in existing businesses and this would not affect them.
The most important part of what we’re asking for is a comprehensive safety plan that will include not just SXSW events, but every other significant activity downtown during our event. Marketing companies are fond of the tactic of keeping everything a secret until the last minute to avoid scrutiny. SXSW, the unofficial events, and the City all need transparency in order to plan for safety properly.