South by Southwest, the massive conference and festival that draws huge crowds from the film, music, and technology industries to Austin, Texas, each March, has been called off for the year. The city’s mayor and public health leaders announced that SXSW is canceled at a press conference on Friday afternoon, saying they found the threat of coronavirus to be too great to allow the events to go on.
“I’ve gone ahead and declared a local disaster in the city and, associated with that, have issued an order that effectively cancels South by Southwest this year,” Austin mayor Steve Adler told reporters.
The conference, which was scheduled to run March 13 to 22, draws hundreds of thousands of people to the city, many of whom travel from around the world. That appears to have been a factor in the decision to issue the cancelation order. Currently, there are no known cases of the novel coronavirus in the Austin area.
“We are devastated to share this news with you,” SXSW organizers wrote in a statement. “‘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.”
Prior to the city order that mandated the cancelation, some had already been encouraging SXSW to voluntarily call off the events. One online petition gathered more than 50,000 signatures, and sponsors and participants were dropping off. TechCrunch reports that Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Twitter, Facebook, Google, TikTok, HBO, and CNN were all among the companies to have already nixed planned product launches, film premieres, and employee appearances.
Now festival organizers are looking into possibilities for rescheduling or creating a “virtual SXSW online experience.” Information about refunds for official conference badges will be posted soon.
The city’s cancelation order is being interpreted by some to only impact the SXSW festival itself, not the many unofficial events that pop-up in Austin each March. At least one unofficial event organizer reached by Los Angeles confirmed that, as of now, they will still be going forward with presenting off-site events and concerts at multiple Austin venues.
Last year, SXSW accounted for an estimated $356 million in economic activity in Austin, and without that stimulus, some local businesses are concerned. Michael Vaclav of Austin restaurant Caffe Medici told Eater Austin that the festival is “normally the biggest two weeks of the whole year.”
Economic impacts may have a ripple effect across the global entertainment industry. “With the cancelation of SXSW and Ultra Music Festival in Miami, it will be interesting to see what happens next in the touring and festival industry,” said one publicist who works with touring musicians. “We may be in for many more cancelations, which will devastate touring musicians financially.”
The SXSW news comes just one day after public health officials in the Coachella Valley held a similar press conference where they reached the opposite conclusion, assuring the public that current conditions suggest Coachella and other festivals in that region will proceed.
However, as Austin’s situation shows, conditions are changing by the day. On Wednesday, Mayor Adler had issued a different public statement, saying at that time that there was “no evidence that canceling SXSW makes us safer.”
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