It’s been a rough few days for the organizers of this year’s SXSW festival.
First, attention was drawn to the contract by would-be performer Felix Walworth of Told Slant, who pointed out language in the festival’s artists contract suggested any artist that didn’t have the proper paperwork might be made known to US immigration officials. Within hours, the festival’s CEO and founder, Roland Swenson, called the whole situation a “misunderstanding,” adding that the language had been there for years and stressing that “we have never reported international showcasing artists to immigration authorities.”
But that wasn’t enough to quell the outrage. More than 50 artists signed on to an open letter to SXSW calling for a policy change.
“We are calling on SXSW to immediately drop this clause from their contract and cease any collusion with immigration officials that puts performers in danger,” the letter states.
“Austin, TX is a sanctuary city and these actions by SXSW show a disrespect for municipal policy. SXSW is a well-respected institution and has a responsibility to show leadership by refusing to collaborate with the government’s campaign of fear and hate toward non-citizens.”
The letter calls on SXSW organizers to “rescind the portion of their contract that states that if they found out that an artist is playing an unofficial showcase they will ‘notify the appropriate US immigration authorities of the above actions’ and ‘accepting and performing at any non-sanctioned events may result in immediate deportation, revoked passport, and denied entry by US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) at US points of entry,” in addition to publicly apologizing for the language and affirming that the festival is “a welcoming space for all artists.”
The letter is signed by, among others, Zach de la Rocha, Talib Kweli, Priests, Sister Polygon Records, Don Giovanni Records, Kimya Dawson, LVL UP and dozens more.
And now, in a new statement released just days before the festival is set to begin, SXSW is changing its tune.
“SXSW opposes discrimination of any kind, and has taken a public stand against President Trump’s travel band and proposed legislation like SB6 in Texas. We have and will continue to support human rights for all. In this political climate, especially as it relates to immigration, we recognize the heightened importance of standing together against injustice,” the statement reads.
The language in the performer contract “is intended to facilitate US entry for international artists and to show CBP that SXSW takes visa issues seriously,” the statement continues. “This language has been part of the contracts since the summer of 2013 and we will be reviewing and amending it for 2018 and beyond.”
After Swenson released his initial statement on March 2, there was criticism that his words did little to provide reassurance and may have made the situation worse. There was an accusation that Told Slant somehow manipulated the image of the offending language in the contract to make things appear worse than they were.
“…Before we had clarity on the situation we believed this artist had taken our language out of context,” the new statement concludes. “We apologize for this error. A major reason for SXSW’s existence is the discovery of new and exciting artists from around the world, and our hope is that we can help these creative people achieve their goals.”