During Spring Break, I was lucky enough to attend the music festival South By Southwest (SXSW). According to SXSW’s official website, the festival “offers the unique convergence of original music, independent films and emerging technologies. Fostering creative and professional growth alike, SXSW is the premier destination for discovery.”
The origin of the festival was so undiscovered musicians, artists, filmmakers and up-and-comers in technology can get their names out into the world, and create a space for their art to be seen and heard.
I was visiting my cousins Anthony, Christina and Cecy in Houston, and we decided to take the three-hour road trip up to Austin. They told me that I had to experience SXSW at least once in my life. I would do it again in heartbeat.
One thing anyone should know about SXSW is that everyone and their mother is there. Literally, everyone. No matter where in Austin my family and I were driving, there was always traffic, and crowds upon crowds of people. To avoid theses crowds, we decided to hang out more in the uptown area at first, away from on the action on the legendary 6th street. The streets were filled with aspiring musicians playing their instruments looking for change, people in outrageous festival gear and tourists galore.
Austin is a fun city mostly made up of young people, so it is the perfect setting for college kids and young adults alike. While we were uptown, we decided to check out some of the shops, which might have been the coolest part of the uptown area. We went into this costume shop called “Lucy in Disguise,” and my life was changed. I need to go back there before next Halloween. The walls were filled with jewelry, sunglasses, hats, jackets and CAT EARS. CAT EARS EVERYWHERE. If you are ever in Austin, check this store out.
We then began the hunt for some free music shows, because we were young millennials on a budget. We ended up finding a show at the back of TOMS shoe store, and got there just in time for be front and center for the four bands that were playing. We ended up only staying for one band called TedoStone. They were actually really awesome. My musical styling is 1 cup 12 year-old girl, ½ cup gangster rapper, 2/3s musical theater nerd, topped with a old man who grew up in the 1940s. I am not really into jam bands or rock music, but TedoStone might have turned me on to the genre. Their music catchy and they performed with a passion and drive I haven’t seen in an artist in a while. It was really cool to see a band that had no connection to a label, or even the industry, get recognized and share their stories with people. If you have a chance, check them out!
As we made our way downtown, my cousins decided to take me to this graffiti wall behind legendary record store Waterloo Records, which has hosted many shows for SXSW.
The graffiti wall was called “Hope Outdoor Gallery,” and is a three-level stonewall where graffiti artist are allowed to put up their own artwork for SXSW attendees to enjoy.
These pieces aren’t just the typical graffiti we see on the walls at gas stations and the occasional Walmart. These are actual portraits, done freehand without stencils; just pure art. However, because the town of Austin “has cleared this wall for” vandalism, the wall has lost its artistic value.
As I was visiting the wall, tourist were scattered all over the wall, painting over the original art. They were adding senseless drawings like emojis, “F*ck Trump” and even pictures NSFW. It was actually kind of sad to see this, because underneath the pictures of hearts and stars were actually beautiful pieces of art.
Local Austin resident Anthony Barragan explained SXSW’s loss of artistry.
“It’s just because South By has lost its artistic value,” Barragan said. “It’s great that it brings in a lot of tourism and money into Austin, but the tourists need to realize that when they do that stuff the artists are losing their opportunity to shine.”
Locals in the Austin area were very angry that not only was the art being destroyed, but also people were littering and leaving their spray bottles and garbage all around the wall.
One person who was picking up the garbage said, “These people have no respect.”
One artist created an art piece on a telephone pole that was statement about how we put the industrialization of America over the environment. It depicts whale and dolphin stuffed animals thru a telephone pole. I witness with my own eyes as someone spray the stuffed animals just for fun. It made me furious because that was someone’s hard work. I also saw a girl write her initials over a piece of fence that someone had put a piece on too. Are your initials really that special?
I left SXSW feeling discouraged, and feeling sorry for the artists. However, the next morning my cousin Cecilia told me to check Instagram.
When I checked, I saw an Instagram post from The Hope Campaign, which is an organization that supports artist and music education.
The Hope Campaign launched an initiative called the “Recreate Event,” where people volunteered to paint over the stonewalls so the artist could put up their work again. Although the artist have to start from scratch again, it was really amazing to see that people still care about preserving the arts.
SXSW was an amazing experience — I was a totally rock-star and even got a tattoo — but I took away a something I will never forget. When we are guests in another state or country, and are partaking in something within their culture, we cannot be invasive.
We have to respect their traditions and be aware of our place within the experience. We also have to preserve art. In our society, certain forms of art are taken more seriously than others; many don’t consider graffiti art.
When those tourists were violating those art pieces, they were perpetuating the idea that graffiti art is something we can smudge or paint over, like it doesn’t matter.
These artists, as seen in pictures, are very talented and passionate, and only have this art as their creative vice. I encourage you all to attend SXSW, but, while you’re there, remember the reason why it started in the first place.
Matthew Pereira can be contacted at email@example.com