Public Hysteria? SXSW Canceled By Austin Mayor, Virtual Festival Under Consideration

With an order from the mayor, the South By Southwest music, film, and interactive media festival is canceled over fears of a new form of coronavirus identified as COVID-19.

SXSW, as it is referred to in shorthand, was set for March 13-22. Other public events held in the upcoming weeks will be evaluated on a case by case basis, according to information from a press conference held at 4 p.m. today in Austin featuring Mayor Steve Adler and other local leaders.

“This is a medical and data-driven decision,” said County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, after announcing a county-level week-long emergency declaration.

Six cases of COVID-19 have been announced in Texas, all foreign travel-related.

Stephanie Hayden, City of Austin Public Health Director, announced that each public event scheduled in the Austin city limits will be evaluated individually “since this situation is rapidly evolving — this will help us to mitigate the spread of disease.” Factors include where participants will be traveling from and the density of the events, among other considerations.

“Since we are now testing individuals for COVID-19, that raises the threat level to elevated,” said Dr. Mark Escott, EMS System Medical Director for the city of Austin, answering questions. Escott said the city will not communicate every negative diagnosis following a COVID-19 test but any positive finding.

“We are exploring options to reschedule the event and are working to provide a virutal SXSW online experience as soon as possible for 2020 …” a statement from festival organizer SXSW, LLC. stated. The full statement is included below.

According to the local news blog Honest Austin, last year the SXSW conference had 73,716 attendees from 106 countries. The economic impact of attendees was $182 million in 2019, SXSW organizers estimated, while the year-round operational impact of the SXSW organization itself was about $157 million. On average, a registrant at SXSW spends five nights in Austin with a nightly room rate at $365.

The festival would have entered its 34th year — this will be the first time the festival has been canceled. Earlier, city officials indicated the festival will go on.

SXSW statement (March 6, 2020):

The City of Austin has cancelled the March dates for SXSW and SXSW EDU. SXSW will faithfully follow the City’s directions.

We are devastated to share this news with you. “The show must go on” is in our DNA, and this is the first time in 34 years that the March event will not take place. We are now working through the ramifications of this unprecedented situation.

As recently as Wednesday, Austin Public Health stated that “there’s no evidence that closing SXSW or any other gatherings will make the community safer.” However, this situation evolved rapidly, and we honor and respect the City of Austin’s decision. We are committed to do our part to help protect our staff, attendees, and fellow Austinites.

We are exploring options to reschedule the event and are working to provide a virtual SXSW online experience as soon as possible for 2020 participants, starting with SXSW EDU. For our registrants, clients, and participants we will be in touch as soon as possible and will publish an FAQ.

We understand the gravity of the situation for all the creatives who utilize SXSW to accelerate their careers; for the global businesses; and for Austin and the hundreds of small businesses – venues, theatres, vendors, production companies, service industry staff, and other partners that rely so heavily on the increased business that SXSW attracts.

We will continue to work hard to bring you the unique events you love. Though it’s true that our March 2020 event will no longer take place in the way that we intended, we continue to strive toward our purpose – helping creative people achieve their goals.



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