Benevolent Guide to SXSW 2016

The annual SXSW (“South by Southwest”) festival of music, film and interactive media returns to Austin, Texas this Friday, March 11. Per usual, it's a madhouse, especially since Obama broke the internet with his announcement that he would be delivering the keynote address for SXSW Interactive, making him the first sitting president to make an appearance at the festival.

With my Southwest flight FOUR HOURS DELAYED (mechanical problems, apparently), I thought I'd take the time to highlight some scheduled events and activities at the intersection of media, art and social good. (In 2014, I had press credentials to cover the same topic for Benevolent Media and Huffington Post Impact. That year, I wrote about the power of Participant Mediahuman connection in a digital world, and #GivingTuesday.)

During this weekend's events, I'm pleased to be representing Huge, a digital agency where I work full-time as a creative strategist, and WeDC, an initiative of the Washington DC Economic Partnership.

This post represents my own recommendations and not those of my employer, partners or sponsors. Below are some highlights from the Interactive portion (March 11-15) of the festival. It's not comprehensive, so shoot me some more tips! erica [at] benevolentmedia [dot] org.


ICYMI: On Friday afternoon, President Barack Obama had a lot of things to say about how technology can increase civic engagement. He said he knows it's not a cure-all, admitting that tech can be a double-edged sword (i.e. you can use it for good or evil) and acknowledging that the failures of were personally "embarrassing". But he also recognized technology's potential. During his keynote, he called on technologists to solve complex problems and make civic participation easier, implying that it shouldn't be easier to order a pizza than to vote in America. (Full disclosure: I was part of the team at Huge, a digital agency, to help create a platform in collaboration with the nonprofit Civic Nation and the White House’s Office of Public Engagement to make it easier for young people to access and navigate government services, such as applying for federal student aid.)

Photo via  Budweiser .

Photo via Budweiser.


In the world of social innovation, "Good" is  the new "Eco." The "SXgood" track is produced by SXSW Ecoa "conference celebrating the power of technology, design and business to drive global change." Check out the full schedule to see events about things like disruptive philanthropy, nonprofit storytelling, and diversity in tech.

"Purpose-driven content" will be hosted at the SXgood Hub, presented by the United Nations Foundation. The U.N. has been getting press lately for its "Waves of Grace" virtual reality project, which seeks to build empathy about the ebola crisis in Liberia by telling the story of a survivor who uses her immunity to care for orphaned children in her village. "Virtual reality is the ultimate empathy machine that takes the viewer to the heart of the story," explains the co-founder of the virtual reality platform, which powered the project.

Also of note from the SXgood programming: Budweiser is launching its #TackleImpossible campaign to make roads around the world a safer place for everyone. If you're traveling to Austin, post your safe-driving ideas to social media, tagging @Budweiser and #TackleImpossible, for the chance to get free pedicab rides. Score!

Photo via  Red Sand Project .

Photo via Red Sand Project.

Art x activism

As you're walking around Austin, notice the cracks in the street. Molly Gochman, a New York City-based experiential artist and activist, is filling them with red sand to draw attention to human trafficking and modern-day slavery, as part of her #RedSandProject, reminding us that we can’t "mind the gap" and walk over the most overlooked and marginalized populations in our communities.

The POW! WOW! crew will be at SXSW to beautify the city and transform blank walls into large public works of art.

There are also several other artists slated to explore the relationship between digital and human connections. Check out the full line-up: