South by Southwest has officially begun, through March 17. Badges range from $375 for a discounted student pass to $1,650 for a discounted student pass, leading some past and present University of Texas students to question their affordability.
Scott Cobb, a 2014 alumnus of the radio-television-film program at UT, said he could never afford a SXSW badge as a student, instead buying $15 entry tickets to see some of the films.
“My most memorable experience with SXSW when I was in college was walking through the crowded convention center wishing I could afford to get into a panel,” Cobb said. “They have so many great panelists each year on film-related topics, and I would have learned a lot, but I never got to attend, so all I learned was how exclusionary for-profit cultural festivals are.”
Students who want to purchase the discounted tickets have to apply through the SXSW website with proof of current school enrollment. This year, student ticket prices are $425 lower than the $800 price of the past.
According to the SXSW 2018 demographics, 6 percent of SXSW attendees came from households that make less than $25,000 a year, while 37 percent came from households making more than $150,000. One percent of attendees were younger than 21, and 6 percent were between the ages of 21 and 24.
“SXSW is known as an ‘Austin Event,’ yet students and low-income nonstudents are not able to afford to attend,” Cobb said. “That says a lot about Austin, and it makes me
alternatively sad and angry.”
SXSW also has a discounted badge of $595 for professors to attend the four-day SXSW EDU Conference and Festival. Radio-television-film professor Paul Stekler said some events are more accessible for students, but the actual conferences are where students can hear from real-world professionals.
“As a young filmmaker, it was really important to me to see people that were in the business and hear them talk about what they do and how they do it,” Stekler said. “I appreciate they have some discount for students, but it would be even greater if they had more opportunities.”
A total of 289,000 people attended the event in 2018, according to a SXSW economic analysis. Last year, the city made $350.6 million from the festival.
“Having an amazing festival in the same city as a really good film school is a wonderful combination of things,” Stekler said. “I hope as time goes on our students have more access to it because it’s a wonderful place to be.”
Radio-television-film sophomore Ziming Xie, who worked as a staff photographer at The Daily Texan last semester, got help from his parents to buy the student pass to attend the business and technology conferences at SXSW. Xie said his parents believe the price is worth it because it will be a good investment for Xie’s long-term education.
“I think the student pass is fairly priced for what it is because the full price is highly outrageous,” Xie said. “You can really get high quality information from people who are good at what they do, and that’s not easy to find anywhere else.”
While Xie said he does not have to worry about the price of his ticket, he is frustrated SXSW is no longer during spring break because it makes it harder to attend everything he paid for.
“I think time is the biggest obstacle this year for students to participate,” Xie said.
Cobb said he thinks the festival could diversify its attentees by lowering the cost for anyone earning less than $25,000.
“It is important to have students involved in SXSW and other cultural festivals because students are people, and people should not be excluded from attending cultural events based on their income,” Cobb said.