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SXSW canceled: Here’s how to help artists, service industry workers

Eric Webb
Bartenders dressed in costumes offer visitors drinks at the CNN Great Big Story’s event house, an installation filled with with interactive displays that tell some of the platform's most popular stories, during South by Southwest on March 10, 2018. [Erika Rich for Statesman]

Austin’s biggest party is off, and people are looking to help the folks who would have made the fun happen.

South by Southwest 2020 was canceled on Friday after a week of uncertainty for the annual conference and festivals, as companies and speakers dropped out over COVID-19 concerns.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said in a news conference that he has declared a local disaster as a precautionary measure against the spread of the disease caused by coronavirus. Travis County Judge Sara Eckhardt also announced a companion measure for the county that affects festival gatherings.

SXSW season is a major source of income for many in Austin, including service industry workers, creative professionals and music artists who perform at the festival and the unofficial events surrounding it.

Here’s a roundup of ways the local community is trying to support those who have lost jobs and performance opportunities due to the cancellation. Know of any others? Email

• The Austin Justice Coalition is hosting a pub crawl Sunday at noon to support downtown Austin industry workers. The crawl begins at The Venue ATX (516 E. Sixth St.)

• The Houston-based Southern Smoke Foundation, which has raised more than $1.5 million for industry staff and has an ongoing Emergency Relief Fund, is accepting donations to help its Austin industry peers. Of note: organizations must apply to request the donate funds, and Southern Smoke is adhering to its standards, including documentation to support the crisis, once they do receive applications from Austin, which has not yet happened More information at

• True Indies is collecting waivers from other film festivals (more than 20 so far), to help filmmakers originally booked at SXSW.

• SXSW alumnus filmmaker Jim Cummings is offering free screening space in Los Angeles for any SXSW films.

Gelateria Gemelli owner Andy Sabola is partnering with catering commissary The Cook’s Nook to host lunch and dinner pop-ups during what would’ve been SXSW week. Sabola is also looking to connect with other businesses that are looking to help with the events.

• Flyrite Chicken is offering 20 percent off all orders to service industry employees March 13-22.

Purpose Worldwide is working with Lucy’s Fried Chicken and their title sponsor, CyberFortress, on Lucy’s South by South Austin Fried Chicken Revival. They will host a free brunch prior to the first music showcase and are reserving up to 50 wristbands for service industry folks who are out of expected work and want to hang with them. Text Lana at 512-970-8310 for more info.

Axon Collective is offering to host start-ups who lost their showcase. Learn more by emailing: Entrepreneurs can sign-up here.

— Matthew Odam

• A website called is tracking submissions by creative professionals and service industry workers that details income lost by the SXSW cancellation. Entries include ways to support them, like Venmo and Paypal handles. Florist Samantha McCrary said she’s now lost $15,000, for example, and musician Walker Lukers said he’s going to miss out on $9,100.

• A group of venue owners in the Red River Cultural District announced plans Friday to band together “to make 10 glorious days of music, art, culture and technology happen across our city.”

A statement shared by representatives from Heard Presents, the promotion company behind downtown music venues Empire Control Room and Garage and the Parish, said that music venues in the Red River Cultural District were making efforts to “ensure as many artists and events that want to continue on and perform a showcase in Austin in the following weeks are able to do so.”

The group has set up a GoFundMe page with a goal of $100,000 to help fund their efforts.

They also invited any “musician, sponsor, content creator, influencer, production worker, bartender, promoter, manager, agent or philanthropist who’s life blood is subsidized by SXSW” looking for support to reach out to the group.

— Deborah Sengupta Stith

• A Google Form has started circulating online to help performers book space now that official showcases have been canceled, attributing Utopia Fest founder Travis Sutherland as the coordinator. The description reads: “Connecting bands/comics and venues/promoters. Let me know if you are a promoter/venue and want to be added to the response sheet. Travis Sutherland”

• The #TipForTwo hashtag started trending on Twitter in Austin on Saturday, suggesting that local diners leave double the gratuity to help our service industry workers during the dates that SXSW would have taken place.

Maybe this idea isn’t for you, but I keep thinking I might do a one-person movement, #TipForTwo, tipping double my typical 20% in Austin during when #SXSW would have been, to help Austin service industry folks shoulder their tremendous losses. Ok idea or nah?

— Harold Cook (@HCookAustin) March 7, 2020

• Austin creative agency T3 has started a GoFundMe to support those losing income. “We'll take the funds raised by this effort to Austin music venues, restaurants, bars and hotels and distribute them to individuals from March 13-22,” the description reads in part. “We will literally be giving the funds out as tips to servers, bartenders, housekeepers, AV professionals, rideshare drivers, etc. For real. To real people. To make a real difference.”

According to Eater Austin, the Roosevelt Room is inviting bartenders to work the next-door Eleanor bar during the dates that would have been SXSW and offering guaranteed pay of $150 per person. Eater Austin reports that half of the sales will go to to the Austin chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild and the Austin Food & Wine Alliance.

• The “Stand With Austin Fund” was created through Austin Community Foundation "to receive charitable donations to assist individuals and small businesses most negatively impacted by the cancellation of SXSW and least able to recover on their own.“ Adler and other community leaders started promoting the fund on Saturday through social media. It is not clear yet how the money collected with be distributed.