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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

UPDATED: SXSW to remove controversial immigration clause from artist contracts

Photo: Brian Feinzimer / Getty Images
Photo: Brian Feinzimer / Getty Images

Responding to the response to its own response to a proposed artist boycott, the organizers of Austin, Texas’ SXSW festival have clarified in a statement that not only will it be amending a controversial clause in its artist contracts stating that the festival could refer international artists to immigration authorities for playing unauthorized shows or other infractions, it will be excising the language altogether.

The festival came under fire last week, when musician Felix Walworth canceled their appearance as Tod Slant at the festival after reviewing their contract and finding the offending language. The festival responded that the clause had been part of its standard contract for several years and had never been enforced, and never would be unless “somebody did something really horrific.” This was insufficient explanation, however, for the dozens of artists who signed an open letter to SXSW asking the festival to remove the language from the contract, apologize, and affirm SXSW as “a welcoming space for all artists, including immigrants and international performers.”

After another round of back-and-forth that found members of the bands Downtown Boys, Evan Greer, and Priests calling SXSW’s promises to “review and amend” the clause “xenophobic” and “utterly misleading,” now local ABC affiliate KVUE reports that the festival will drop the language altogether. Speaking to the station, entertainment lawyer Brian Goldstein says, “I think this is typical of a lot of organizations where the artistic administration has no idea what’s in their own agreements … This was probably drafted by some corporate attorney that has no idea what they were talking about and no one has paid attention until now because everyone is up in arms, understandably, about the current immigration situation.”


SXSW has also released another statement clarifying its stance; you can read the full statement below.

With the announcement of President Trump’s latest Travel Ban, SXSW would like to reaffirm its public opposition to these executive orders and provide ongoing support to the artists traveling from foreign countries to our event.

To reinforce that stance, we would like to address the concerns regarding the language in our artist invitation letter and performance agreement for the SXSW Music Festival.

SXSW will do the following:

  • We will change the language in our artist invitation letter and performance agreement for 2018 and beyond.
  • We will remove the option of notifying immigration authorities in situations where a foreign artist might “adversely affect the viability of Artist’s official showcase.”
  • *Safety is a primary concern for SXSW, and we report any safety issues to local authorities. It is not SXSW’s duty or authority to escalate a matter beyond local authorities.

In this political climate, especially as it relates to immigration, we recognize the heightened importance of standing together against injustice.

While SXSW works to be in compliance with U.S. immigration law, it is important to know that:

  • SXSW has not, does not, and will not, disclose an artist’s immigration status, except when required by law.
  • SXSW does not have the power to deport anyone.
  • There are no “deportation clauses” in our current performance agreements. There will be no “deportation clauses” in our future participant agreements.
  • SXSW does not “collude with” any immigration agencies including ICE, CBP or USCIS to deport anyone.
  • Each year SXSW coordinates with hundreds of international acts coming to SXSW to try and mitigate issues at U.S. ports of entry. This year we are working to build a coalition of attorneys to assist any who face problems upon arrival in the States.
  • In the 31 years of SXSW’s existence, we have never reported any artist or participant to any immigration agency.

We would like to again apologize for the language in our agreements. We care deeply about the community we serve, and our event is a welcome and safe space for all people.

UPDATE: The artists who fought against the immigration clause have issued a joint statement celebrating its excision from SXSW’s artist agreement, as well as individual statements from participating artists on the campaign and the road ahead. You can read it in its entirety below.

After mounting pressure from artists and the public, SXSW has chosen to do the right thing and has apologized for their contract language, pledged to remove deportation language from future contracts, and promised not to work with ICE at this year’s festival. They also strongly condemned Trump’s immigration policies and his Muslim ban. We applaud SXSW’s decision to stand with immigrants and against ICE, and are thrilled that collective action from musicians has worked to push a massive institution into taking a principled stand on an issue with ramifications far beyond next week’s festival in Austin.

SXSW’s decision was made following our collective effort from over 80+ artists - most of whom are scheduled to perform at the festival - to pressure the festival to make the changes. We sent out a public letter, a public petition was passed around, and masses of people called, tweeted, and emailed SXSW demanding that they make the changes. After some negotiating, the festival finally agreed to our demands. The effort shows that artists can and must take collective action to fight unjust policies within the cultural sphere. At this critical time we need to bring the struggle to every institution, and with this victory we’ve shown how it can be done. We’ve not only sent a message to large music festivals everywhere, but also to ICE and the Trump administration. We will fight them at every turn.

There’s so much more work to do, but we also want to celebrate this victory. Let’s keep pushing, and using our music as a tool and a weapon to change the world.

Below are additional statements from the artists that lead the effort:

“We are pleased that SXSW made a specific commitment to protecting artists and hope that this is only the beginning of the festival taking into account their broader community, with respect to the city of Austin and how to best support and hear both musicians and fans” - Priests

“This victory shows the power that musicians have when we stand and fight injustice together. We’ve allowed corporations and powerful institutions to control the ways we produce and share our art for too long. A rag tag band of queers, artists, activists, and revolutionaries took one one of the biggest games in the music world and won. Let this be a lesson to the powerful, and inspiration to all of us. Let this be the beginning of a new era where musicians stand together against the influence of capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy on our music community and the world.” - Evan Greer

“I’m glad to see that sxsw has made explicit promises to remove their anti-immigrant policy from the festival’s contract. But our work here definitely isn’t finished. I hope that as artists and activists we can continue to have conversations about what kinds of structures and institutions we’re willing to support with our work and our voices. And I hope that these conversations can lead to more active resistance in the future. Sxsw’s concession here should serve as a reminder that we have the power to organize and make real changes to the systems that we oppose.” -Told Slant

“This is a huge victory and a beautiful example of what we can achieve when cultural workers act together to make demands. These music festivals are our employers, and they reflect the same power dynamics of racism and anti-immigrant sentiment that exist in so many workplaces. No matter where you work, these fights must be fought, and we hope this win shows that it can be done.” - Downtown Boys

“I am grateful for all the artists and musicians I know who take a firm stance against injustice and continue to challenge and disarm the daily microagressions that create the connective tissue of bigotry. These folks help to fight for space inside these institutions and that fight will resonate long after they are involved. I’m proud to call them my peers.” -Bean Tupou from Allison Crutchfield and the Fizz

“Art does not exist in a bubble and neither do artists — powerful vehicles like SXSW have to recognize the power of Trump’s administration to harm those who are living and working full-time as artists and those who can make art only when the time and resources are available. I am proud of the activists, artists, labels, and supporters who put people first and came together to call out harmful contractual language that only reinforces this xenophobic administration’s tactics. For me, this experience has been an important lesson in reading all the fine-print. As many folks have pointed out, this harmful language has been in the sxsw contract for years. It’s time for artists to be more vigilant about what they will and won’t accept, and to remember that even if it doesn’t always feel like it WE DO HAVE POWER.” -Sammus

“I’m glad to hear SXSW has moved to change the divisive rhetoric in its artist’s agreement. It is a good step forward. We do not need anyone else collaborating with immigration authorities in a city where families are actively being torn apart by ICE. I hope SXSW will continue to foster positive relations with both their international and local communities and strive to bring attention to issues such as gentrification, immigration, police brutality, and anti-transgender bathroom laws. These issues greatly impact our community but are often ignored during the festivities. This issue shows that beginning a dialogue can have meaningful impact and change policies. I truly hope SXSW will throw their weight behind speaking against detrimental laws like SB4 (a Texas bill that will require all Texas law enforcement to comply with ICE) and SB6 (a Texas anti-transgender bathroom bill) that will greatly impact the people in the state they like to call home.” -Milo Royal, Austin resident and musician

“While i’m pleased with this, why didn’t SXSW simply listen to artists when they tried to communicate the first time? Why the excuses and the games if they knew this was wrong all the time? I really hope it comes from a place of sincerity and not just because they were about to lose artists and sponsors.” -Immortal Technique


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