SXSW – South by Southwest
March 9, 2023 – 21:51
Over the past 36 years, South by Southwest has transformed from a festival focused on bringing Austin’s local music culture to the fore, and later in audiovisual culture, to embracing a range of themes that attract nearly 300,000 people from different regions of the world. globe annually.
Part of the attractiveness of SXSW is networking with these almost 300,000 agents from different industries, but a good part of the public goes to SXSW wanting to breathe in the mix of culture and business that the festival promotes and the program that includes debates with experts, big names of the sector, celebrities and politicians.
Ao Meio & Mensagem, Co-President and Chief Programming Officer of South by Southwest shared his insights into the transformations the festival has undergone over the nearly 40 years to reflect the city of Austin and its cultural and corporate audiences.
Meio & Mensagem – How has SXSW evolved to bring the corporate world and culture together?
Hugh Forrest – One of the main points for our survival since 1987 that we have changed and turned a lot along the way. Yes, it started completely focused on music and we added film in 1994 and then technology. 30 years later, we’re thinking about space, health technology, transportation, sports, food, fashion and everything in between. What hasn’t changed is our focus on immense creativity. It resonates with the culture and atmosphere of Austin. It is a city that has always nurtured and celebrated creativity. This is one of the reasons why South by Southwest is so celebrated in Brazil. When you ask about the corporate element, I believe there is an authenticity between the audience and the program that the corporate audience wants to feel in order to understand and that is important to them as well.
SXSW is transforming to unite culture and corporate, present and future
M&M – How do these two fields influence each other?
There is an inevitable back and forth between the two. Many of the most successful companies are those that are the most culturally aligned. That’s one of the things we do well at SXSW. We bring together business leaders and place them in an atmosphere that is a little different from your standard business conference. We give them different points of reference that help open their minds in different ways, inspire them and create new opportunities and partnerships. That’s how we do business in Austin. You mix and match work. SXSW is always a reflection of that in the Austin atmosphere.
M&M – For the first time, SXSW is being held elsewhere, in Sydney. How will the Australian edition differ from the Austin edition? The festival is strongly associated with the city of Austin. How will the team bring that aspect closer to him?
We are very excited about Sydney. It will take place in October 2023. It will be our first branded event outside the United States. Some of our contributors have visited Sydney and say it’s a city that celebrates creativity in a similar way to us in Austin. We have a great team working on this event and many of them will be in Austin for SXSW. I believe that they will be able to take the festival that we are doing, bring it to Australia and insert it into the local cultural context to make it attractive to the audience that was not able to come because of Sydney’s distance from Austin.
M&M – You mentioned that the place must have a creative streak. Is that what you are looking for to bring the event outside of the US?
A region, country or place has to make sense, it has to have something culturally unique and that’s why Sydney makes sense. There are several cities with a strong music culture or startup culture. There are several places where we could have an event. We are exploring several of these options. We are optimistic about how Sydney will perform and are excited about the future.
M&M – So is there any possibility of you having more events in other places?
That’s a possibility. We’ll probably start slowly with this one. First we have to run the plan and see what works, the problems we didn’t expect and when we potentially map it out, we’ll go somewhere else.
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M&M – Since Brazilians are the majority of the audience, is there a possibility of holding SXSW in Brazil?
I don’t want to say anything that will be misunderstood, so I will say that we love Brazil, we love people who come to Austin from Brazil. If the right opportunity presents itself, we’ll see.
M&M – Having spoken to festival goers for at least a decade, I’ve realized that many use the selection of keynotes and featured speakers and keynotes to find out what the developers think about what should be discussed. Is there any truth to this theory?
As for my opening remarks this year, I think I’m going to talk a lot about what we talked about today, how international the presence is at SXSW and how amazing it is to see the world come to Austin and hear different languages and embrace different cultures. It is something that always breaks our hearts. We can also say that climate change, DEI&B are super strong topics at the event this year. We firmly believe that the future will be much better if it is more uniform, more diverse, more inclusive. We celebrate it at SXSW because it’s the right thing to do and because we’re an event about creativity, innovative thinking. And different people think differently, in different ways in terms of innovation, and it’s our job to bring out as many perspectives as possible.
M&M – The SXSW 23 lineup is focused on artificial intelligence, the metaverse and other technologies, but the schedule also discusses the importance of the human aspect to business, the planet and other areas. Why unite the two sides?
We are entering a new frontier in terms of these issues. We always emphasize that creativity is king and that people are the best at creativity. Certainly, ChatGPT can’t match humans in terms of creativity, but you can see some possibilities in this area. This changes some of our ideas and understanding of what creativity is. I believe we still have a strong future for human creative thinking, but really, things like generative artificial intelligence are forcing us to rethink what the nature of creativity means and how it will evolve in the future. We’ll definitely be talking about this a few times at SXSW.
M&M – There is also a public perception that SXSW is no longer so much about the long-term future as to focus on the present and the short-term future. What can you say about this evolution?
It’s not necessarily intentional. We are getting better at choosing people who understand or have more prospects for education in the near future. But some of our best sessions are big-picture things that look 30 years into the future, not what’s going to happen next week, month or year. These are always the most influential sessions at events like SXSW. I hope it’s not one or the other, but more of both, and that we provide short-term perspectives, tangible things like climate change, the metaverse, and generative artificial intelligence, and long-term perspectives that are important to the sustainability of our species.
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M&M – How is Penske Media involved in the festival? What changes have you made since the company bought part of SXSW?
We took over the investment from Penske after the 2020 event was cancelled. They’ve been very good at helping us improve some of our business processes and get better at that, but in terms of programming, what we do, and the focus on creativity, they understand and appreciate what we do and don’t want to mess with magic. since SXSW. This is the first time we are working with a partner and learning to dance. But it’s been a good partnership so far and I hope to continue to improve that partnership as we move forward.
M&M – We talked a lot last year about how the city of Austin has changed in the two years of the pandemic. What has changed in this year?
Austin has grown very rapidly over the past two decades. But during the pandemic, that growth exploded and we continue to see tremendous growth. This creates some changes in the city, but the city has always changed and always grown. In a way, it’s more of the same. One of the big drivers of growth in Austin is the fact that we have a big Tesla plan in Austin and that’s reflected in the SXSW schedule. We have a transportation trail created in 2022. SXSW programming is always a reflection of what’s hot and trendy in Austin. When the festival was created, it was focused on music because there was a strong music scene here. It’s still going strong, but that was the starting point in the 1980s. In the last decade, we’ve added more content focused on health technology, medtech, biotech because the University of Texas was creating a medical-focused unit and we realized that this would create a whole long tail to help local companies in the city and SXSW should be a part of that .
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M&M – What are you planning or expecting for the future of South by Southwest?
It’s hard to predict because predicting the future is a crazy game, but I believe SXSW will always reflect the city of Austin and as we continue to focus on mass creativity in all the industries we cover, I believe we will honor our initial vision. SXSW’s role is to bring creative people together, and I don’t see that changing in the near future.