SXSW 2020

SXSW issues sweeping layoffs after festival canceled by City of Austin

SXSW issues sweeping layoffs after festival canceled by City of Austin

logo for SXSW 2014 South by Southwest
SXSW is headquartered on Lavaca Street. Photo courtesy of SXSW

Update: This story has been updated to include SXSW's official statement. 

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Three days after its flagship 10-day festival was canceled by city officials, SXSW has begun layoffs. On Monday, March 9, the company, which is headquartered on Lavaca Street in downtown Austin, laid off about 30 percent of its employees, most of whom are reportedly in the SXSW Music sector.

The news was first reported by Elizabeth Findell, a reporter at the Wall Street Journal, and confirmed by CultureMap by a source with knowledge of the situation. In response, SXSW issued the following statement: 

“Due to the City of Austin’s unprecedented and unexpected cancellation of the SXSW 2020 events in March, SXSW has been rigorously reviewing our operations, and we are in the unimaginable position of reducing our workforce. Today we said goodbye to approximately one-third of our full-time staff.”

"Those of us in the business of live events know the level of trust required to execute an event of SXSW’s scale, and we are deeply sad to let people go this soon. We are planning for the future and this was a necessary, but heartbreaking step.”

Despite its dramatic economic impact (the festival brought $355 million into the local economy last year), the decision to cancel SXSW amid fears of coronavirus was made on March 6 by Austin city officials.

Later that evening, SXSW co-founder Nick Barbaro told the Austin Chronicle that SXSW does not have insurance to cover communicable diseases, viruses, and pandemics. (Barbaro is also the publisher of the Chronicle.) This was reiterated by CEO Roland Swenson, who told the WSJ they were "unsure how they will keep the festival going" in the wake of the cancellation.

Despite the cancellation, many members of Austin's music community pledged to continue with non-SXSW sanctioned shows. They were dealt a blow on Monday, March 9, when the city issued the following statement:

"From now through May 1, events with 2,500 or more people are prohibited unless organizers are able to assure Austin Public Health (APH) that mitigation plans for infectious diseases are in place." Read that full statement here

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This is a developing story.