The Year without SXSW

Convention Center - Austin, Texas

Convention Center – Austin, Texas

The scooters and bike looked really lonely, as did the entire convention center. Normally, this would be the busiest time of the year. SXSW, Austin’s mega film, music, and interactive conference, was canceled. Yes, due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

I went down there on Sunday, March 15th, just two days after the intended start date. It was dismal. Normally, the crush of out-of-towners usually scares most Austinites away. The suburbanites stay safely tucked beyond the central business district — parking is a mess as is the traffic. Only the brave venture downtown. No need to worry this year.

For many years now, SXSW is an excuse for me to shoot downtown — both street photography and street portraits. I often take a day off, celebrating both the festivities and my birthday. This year, I did some quite contemplative photography.

Convention Center - Austin, Texas

I made this photograph through the glass door. It’s the main lobby of the convention center, now closed tight. Thousands usually stream through this area.

Convention Center - Austin, Texas
Convention Center - Austin, Texas

Austin did the right thing, canceling this year’s event. The SXSW organizers held on to the end, even as more companies started to drop out. Ultimately, the city left them with no choice. Having 280,000 people from around the country and the world was not a good idea.

New Orleans partied on, as usual, holding their Mardi Gras on February 25th. Some think the spike in Coronavirus cases was due to this, now numbering 1,350. Luckily for Austin, the number of cases, at least for now, are mercifully low — just 200. Cancelling SXSW might have bought us more time.

Cancelling SXSW wasn’t without consequences. It’s the second-largest event in Austin and brings in $356 million. The impact to the SXSW organization is even larger, with the event canceled, they laid off 50 people — about 1/3 of their staff.

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