Editor's note: On Tuesday, March 17, the City of Austin closed all restaurants and bars and banned group gatherings of more than 10 people to curb the spread of coronavirus. The ban will be in effect until May 1.
It's been less than 72 hours, but the shock of SXSW's cancellation is still reverberating through the city. The hospitality industry is Austin's industry, and the loss of one of the nation's biggest festivals leaves a massive, $355 million hole in the middle of the local economy.
Before we begin, this is not about waxing poetic about the folksiness of an Austin-only SXSW. Those who do so are minimizing the economic impact the festival has on fellow citizens, and, frankly, sound patronizing. This year's cancelation will likely have repercussions we haven't conceived, and it will undoubtedly bring up tough questions about SXSW's future and the city's dependency on it.
On Friday, March 6, the City of Austin canceled SXSW due to concerns about the coronavirus. That night, the Austin Chronicle reported that SXSW does not have insurance to cover "communicable diseases, viruses, and pandemics." It's important to note that this was told to the newspaper by SXSW co-founder Nick Barbaro, who is also the publisher of the Chronicle.
On Sunday, March 8, this information was corroborated by SXSW CEO Roland Swenson, who told the Wall Street Journal that not only is the cancellation not covered by insurance, but the potential loss of millions of dollars may threaten next year's SXSW.
Aside from the Barbaro and Swenson interviews, SXSW has released no more information as of press time, so we're still awaiting details of what's next for the fest. As for the city, the story remains the same: this is unchartered territory. As the festival has grown, so too has the industry that supports it, and its shutter is an unimaginable loss to many people's bottom line.
Though SXSW stayed mum over the weekend, many members of Austin's community stepped up to start online fundraisers and pledged to continue with non-SXSW sanctioned shows. You can find a list of those organizations below. Meanwhile, CultureMap contributor John Laird is working hard to research those music events, and we will publish his article later this week.
Local politicians are also urging residents to "Stand with Austin," an initiative urging residents to get out and support locally owned bars, clubs, restaurants, hotels, and other hospitality businesses. State politicians, however, have largely remained silent; interesting, considering the festival does bring hundreds of millions of taxable income into the state. Last week, when asked by KUT if SXSW should be canceled, Governor Greg Abbott said it was a "strictly local decision" and he seems to be standing by that.
The truth is that SXSW attracted more than 100,000 registered attendees last year — a number that doesn't include those who take part in non-official SX events (that number is estimated to surpass 200,000). That aforementioned $355 million hole is daunting, and it will be up to Austinites to make sure that for the next few days, weeks, and months, those clubs are filled, tip jars stuffed, and our city pride is on full display.
While it is ironic that in the midst of a global health scare we should be urging each other to gather together, that's exactly what we should do. Spend spring break in town. Be thoughtful in where and how you spend money. Try a new bar or coffee shop and then go back to your favorite just because. Eat out. Lend a hand. Do a favor. Take your talent and apply it to the collective good. And for goodness' sake, go see live music.
We may not be able to save SXSW 2020, but we can make the next few weeks a little easier for our friends and neighbors.
Ways to give back
In the wake of SXSW's first-ever cancellation, many local individuals and groups have stepped up to help organize recovery efforts. We will continue to update this list as we receive more information. If there is one missing, please submit details here.
Austin Community Foundation's Stand with Austin Fund — This fund was created to receive charitable donations to assist individuals and small businesses most negatively impacted by the cancellation of SXSW and least able to recover on their own.
Banding Together — The Red River Cultural District is banding together to provide financial relief to artists, venues, and events within the Red River Cultural district.
I Lost My Gig — Local creatives can submit their lost wages (they're verified by I Lost My Gig). Donors can then gift them money via Venmo or Cash App.
Southern Smoke — Southern Smoke has created an Austin-specific fund to help specifically those in the food and beverage industry. Donate here and select "Austin Relief Fund" at checkout. Those working in the industry can apply for relief here. English and Spanish applications are available.
T3 GoFundMe — Local advertising agency T3 is soliciting funds to "literally [give] funds out as tips to servers, bartenders, housekeepers, AV professionals, rideshare drivers, etc. For real. To real people. To make a real difference." The agency says it will also be filming the moments so donors can see their money in action.