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SXSW says it won't partner with the U.S. Army — or weapons manufacturers — in 2025

A large orange, multi-colored arch with the letters "SXSW" is seen above escalators that are full of people going between floors.
Patricia Lim
/
KUT News
Artists boycotted SXSW en masse earlier this year because of the festival's partnerships with the U.S. Army and another defense contractor.

SXSW will no longer partner with the military or with weapons manufacturers, according to a new, quietly announced policy.

Artists at SXSW Music this year boycotted the festival en masse after learning the U.S. Army and defense contractor RTX, formerly Raytheon, were sponsors. Nearly 120 artists canceled their sets, arguing the festival shouldn't be associated with RTX specifically, as it has supplied weapons to Israel in the war in Gaza.

The festival rolled out a new policy this week on its website, saying it won't partner with the U.S. Army or defense contractors.

"After careful consideration, we are revising our sponsorship model," the statement reads. "As a result, the US Army, and companies who engage in weapons manufacturing, will not be sponsors of SXSW 2025."

The decision was welcomed by Zainab Haider with the Austin for Palestine Coalition, a group that helped organize the local effort. Haider said she was surprised the push "organically ballooned" when it garnered national, and even international, attention in March. She said she's equally surprised by the festival's policy-change this week.

"We thought this victory was going to be a harder road. We thought it was going to take longer. We were actually gearing up a campaign for South by Southwest 2025," she said. "But I want to say that we welcome this move from South by Southwest, and we realize that it may result in financial losses to them."

Austin for Palestine, which partnered with another artist-backed nonprofit that's previously protested the festival for its pay structure, even drew the attention of Gov. Greg Abbott, who told artists, "if you don’t like [Texas], don’t come here." The lion's share of the festival's artists are Austinites.

Artists also banded together last year to protest the festival's wages, which have historically been low. Austin percussionist and drummer Thor Harris has played SXSW Music for decades. Harris was one of hundreds of artists who called on the festival to raise wages, which it eventually did (again quietly) — announcing a new pay structure last summer.

"We do have a troubled past, me and SWSW," he laughed. "But I'm certainly willing to acknowledge when they make a good decision."

Harris said this and the festival's decision to waive application fees for local musicians on the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians were a testament to musicians' ability to flex their muscle as the "soft capital" that keeps the festival aloft.

"We, the musicians, are soft capital, and we don't want to be used for one of the most disgusting things about America, which is our war machine," he said. "So SXSW, yes, they were really stupid for putting us on the same stage with the war machine. But if they're willing to take the war machine out of that equation, then possibly they have a future."

KUT reached out to SXSW for a comment on the policy change but was directed back to the statement on the festival website.

Following the news, the U.S. Army Futures Command, which is headquartered in Austin, told KUT in a statement it "appreciated the opportunity" to be a part of the festival and that it will "continue to seek opportunities to meet technology innovators and leaders, explore new ideas and insights, and create dynamic industry partnerships."

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Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at aweber@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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