SXSW CANCELED: 2020 festival will not be held amid COVID-19 concerns

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Friday, Austin Mayor Steve Adler, along with other city and county leaders announced that the 2020 South by Southwest festival would be canceled amid nationwide and local concerns over COVID-19, the disease caused by the Wuhan coronavirus.

In a press conference at Austin City Hall, it was announced that the world-famous SXSW, which was set to begin March 13, would be canceled as Adler has declared a local emergency.

Adler explained that the declaration came after consultation with Austin health officials, saying, “I have issued an order that effectively cancels South by Southwest for this year.”

In recent weeks, concerns over the festival’s influx of attendees from all over the world have been the focus of much discussion and concern.

BACKGROUND: Will SXSW be cancelled?

Over the past week, several big-name companies have pulled out of the festival, including Apple, WarnerMedia, Twitter, Facebook and Intel.

As of Friday, nearly 56,000 people signed a change.org petition to cancel the festival.

In the conference, Mark Escott, Interim Health Authority said that there are still no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Travis County. Escott said that now is not the time to panic, saying “This is a time to prepare and to provide a measured response to that threat. This is like a hurricane looming in the gulf.”

In a letter on its site on Friday, SXSW said, in part:

“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.”

South by Southwest acknowledged that they understand the impact the cancellation will have for the creatives who use the festival to accelerate their careers — in addition to the small businesses that rely on the festival to attract customers.

SXSW concluded, saying:

“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.”

Local and national reactions

The news of the cancellation — the first in the festival’s 34-year history — immediately became the no. 1 trending subject on Twitter Friday afternoon, with most expressing sadness for those who will be economically impacted.

The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce also expressed sympathies for those who will be impacted, in a statement, saying:

“We respect the city and county’s decision to issue a state of emergency in response to COVID-19. Our thoughts are with the many small businesses in Austin that depend on major events like SXSW to keep their doors open.”

Ryan Garrett, general manager of Stubb’s Bar-B-Q, a popular SXSW music venue told KXAN on Friday that the decision was a shock. “As hard of a hit as it is, it’s our job to listen to the experts,” Garrett said.

The news of the cancellation is still hitting local businesses and artists.

Singer-songwriter and Austin native Evan Charles, guitar player and frontman for the band Altamesa, says he’s long dreamed of playing at South by Southwest.

Now, that dream will have to wait.

“I’ve always hoped it would come through, and it was going to this year. We were official this year,” says Charles. “And who knows what will happen now.”

The local economic impact

South by Southwest creates an economic impact of more than $300 million for Austin.

Economist Angelos Angelou says that when the impact is all in a matter of a couple weeks, the cancellation is devastating for the entertainment industry.

Many businesses makes as much money during SXSW as they do in an entire quarter.

“So many business expecting this event, and preparing year-round for this event,” Angelou, of Angelou Economics, says. “So they stocked on food and drinks and material and everything else.”

A GoFundMe page called Banding Together is already underway to help people affected by the cancellation. The goal is to raise $100,000 to help people who would have played or worked the festival.

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