Back in March, the cancellation of Austin’s annual South By Southwest (SXSW) music festival and conference due to the coronavirus pandemic signaled the very beginning of an industry-wide touring shutdown. Today (Sept. 22), SXSW organizers shared an early look at their plans for 2021 — which may or may not include the return of a physical edition.
Next spring, SXSW will hold an online conference and festival from March 16 to March 20, 2021, featuring its usual slate of keynotes, panels, showcases and exhibitions in digital form. In lieu of the usual showcase application process for musicians, programming staff will curate the music festival, with priority given to artists who had been scheduled to perform at the canceled 2020 event.
An in-person edition could still happen: “SXSW is working with the City of Austin and public health authorities on plans for a physical event in 2021,” a blog post announcement reads.
“The challenge of building a new future is one that we’re excited to tackle,” SXSW co-founder/CEO Roland Swenson said. “This has been such a year of change and we, like the entire world, are reshaping our perspective on how we connect. We’re pleased to be working on SXSW Online as part of our program for 2021, and regardless of platform, we will continue to bring together the brightest minds from creative industries worldwide.”
SXSW’s education-focused conference, SXSW EDU, will also be held virtually from March 9 to March 11, 2021. The application to propose panels for both virtual conferences (SXSW and SXSW EDU) opens Oct. 6, as does the application for film festival submissions.
Regardless of the form it takes, SXSW’s 2021 programming looks to dissect the pandemic’s widespread impact on every aspect of our lives. Themes for 2021 listed on SXSW’s panel proposal platform, PanelPicker, revolve around how creativity has blossomed in the face of the pandemic (“Cultural Resilience In The Arts”); rebuilding the global economy (“The Rebirth of Business”); the consequences of social isolation (“Connection In Disconnection”) and more, as well as one theme focused on combatting racial injustice, poverty, the climate crisis and global pandemics themselves (“A New Urgency”).
SXSW 2020 was officially cancelled just a week ahead of its planned March 13 start, marking the first time in SXSW’s 34-year history that it has canceled the entire annual event. SXSW organizers originally pushed to move forward with the event, even after companies like Amazon, Facebook and Twitter pulled out, but it was officially scrapped after Austin city officials declared a local disaster.