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SXSW Canceled: Women Are Mobilizing the Community to Give Back

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The reported income loss of the South by Southwest cancellation is more than a million. Here’s how you can help the small-business owners, artists and service-industry workers.

By Courtney Runn

Since Friday’s South by Southwest cancellation, small-business owners, artists and service-industry workers have lost thousands. From florists who now have thousands of dollars worth of unusable flowers to musicians who lost gigs to Lyft and Uber drivers counting on increased revenue, the stories circulating social media show the very human—and often heartbreaking—side to the cancellation.  

Native Austinite and brand strategist Mary Kathryn Paynter has attended the festival for almost two decades and while she didn’t lose money this year, she knows what it’s like to rely on SXSW. 

“A lot of my friends were calling for it to be canceled and signing the petition and I completely understood that, especially my friends who are pregnant and have compromised immune systems,” she says. “But I also totally understood that I have other friends who completely rely on the income of South By to pay a lot of their bills.” 

To offset the economic loss and spread awareness, Paytner teamed up with siblings Luke Lashley and Shelly Lashley to launch I Lost My Gig. The online directory includes the names, reported income loss, social-media handles and Venmo profiles of people affected by the cancellation. The jobs represented span industries with photographers, DJs, journalists, event producers, florists and carpenters reporting financial losses from a few hundred dollars up to $40,000. 

Paynter spent the weekend verifying and accepting applications to join the directory. According to its website, I Lost My Gig received 200 submissions in 36 hours and, as of publication, the total reported income lost adds up to more than a million.

“I’m not one of those people that’s sad that Austin is changing…but one of the things that does make me sad about the way Austin has changed is I think there’s more and more of a gap between the people who enjoy these events and the people who make them possible,” Paynter says. 

She hopes I Lost My Gig is a “reality check” for Austinites unaware of the people who keep SXSW running year after year and the significant economic ramifications of not having hosting the festival. 

Local companies have also rallied to create fundraisers. Angela Yang, vice president of growth for T3 Thinktank, says her team immediately met Friday night after the announcement, not to focus on their own lost revenue but to mobilize the community to give back. 

They published the South By South Best GoFundMe page with a $5,000 goal Friday night. Within 24 hours, they reset it to $10,000 after funds surpassed the initial goal. Paynter says the mission is “one-on-one impact in the community.”

On the fundraising page, it says, “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.”

“There’s a trend of once you lose something you always expected to be there you miss it more, so I do think there might be a renewed interest in South By, what it means for the city and how brands get involved in future years,” Yang says. “I do think we can bounce back and persevere.”

Elaine Garza and Jennifer Sinski, CEO and vice president of PR firm Giant Noise respectively, reached out to Southern Smoke Foundation after hearing the news. The Houston-based foundation was created after Harvey, so Garza and Sinksi knew it would be well-equipped to handle and distribute crisis donations. They partnered to create a fund for anyone affected in Austin. 

Sinski has attended or worked SXSW for more than 10 years. “It made my career happen,” she says. This year, she was working with CNN, Capital Factory and the European Union on activiations, all of which were canceled. While she didn’t lose much financially, she did lose months of preparation. 

“It’s disappointing, but I understand why the decision was made,” she says but watching the community come together is “inspiring and reinvigorating.” She’s pivoting from SXSW planning to fundraising and spreading awareness.

Banding Together, a GoFundMe page created by the Red River Cultural District and Heard, has already raised close to $10,000 for affected artists and venues in the Red River district. They’re also working to find new venues to reschedule canceled shows. Austin Community Foundation is raising money for the hospitality industry through its Stand with Austin fundraiser. 

New fundraising efforts continue to pop up as businesses and individuals are working through the weekend to help locals survive the cancellation. 

“I don’t know anyone in this town whose career hasn’t benefited from SXSW in one way or another,” Paynter says. “There are people behind the scenes making that happen and it’s time for them not to be invisible anymore.” 

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