Those who took part in #SATXatSXSW, San Antonio’s official South by Southwest (SXSW) trip, have described the initiative as a success. But its participants also know there’s room for improvement for future trips to the Austin conference.

“We haven’t pulled together all of the information and measured with metrics yet,” said Kevin Peckham, executive director of Choose San Antonio, the nonprofit that led a coalition of 40 private and public sector partners for SXSW. Surveys are currently being sent out to those partners.

The partners, in various ways, supported what was the City’s biggest official collective South by activation during the interactive part of the festival. The initiative included a three-day takeover of a downtown Austin bar, nicknaming it “Casa San Antonio” and filling it with panel discussions, parties and networking opportunities.

San Antonio’s SXSW partnership also hosted an icehouse-type trade show space at the Austin Convention Center, where locals mingled with visitors from across the world and further promoted San Antonio as more than a tourist draw.

While data is still being refined, Peckham revealed some preliminary estimates from the SATX@SXSW initiative:

* About 3,200 people visited Casa San Antonio/Old School Bar and Grill, which hosted more than 30 activities over three days. Because panels and other San Antonio-oriented events were held on the bar’s spacious second floor and accessible only by a SXSW badge or day pass at that point, some events reached capacity, as was the case with five events.

Other visitors, in the downstairs free area that included SXSW attendees and restaurant/bar patrons, met with volunteers from the San Antonio initiative and browsed original items that artist Cruz Ortiz and his colleagues displayed sold.

Local artist Cruz Ortiz's commissioned art will adorn temporary tattoos, shirts, promotional literature and more during San Antonio's official presence at South by Southwest Interactive. Courtesy photo.
Local artist Cruz Ortiz’s commissioned art will adorn temporary tattoos, shirts, promotional literature and more during San Antonio’s official presence at South by Southwest Interactive. Courtesy photo.

* More than 50,000 people saw or walked past San Antonio’s trade show booth over the show’s four days. Collectively, San Antonio volunteers reported about 800 interactions, of varying lengths of time, with visitors at the trade show booth. According to Peckham, he and his volunteers talked with attendees from 28 states and from 18 countries.

* More than 300 free breakfast tacos were served during the first event at Casa San Antonio on March 11, the supposed “taco-off” between Austin and San Antonio that ended up being a showcase for three teams of San Antonio chefs.

* San Antonio’s volunteers gave away or applied more than 2,000 temporary tattoos bearing the SATX@SXSW or SATX logo, created by Cruz Ortiz.

* An estimated 20,000 people saw Cruz Ortiz’s large-scale murals that adorned one of the outside walls at the Old School Bar and Grill, during its three-day stint as “Casa San Antonio.”

Members from the board of directors for Choose San Antonio planned to meet this week to discuss the data and results from San Antonio’s SXSW initiative, and to identify what the nonprofit can do in the future to promote the city in a new way. Overall, Peckham and his associates feel this year’s SXSW activation was a success.

“Together with our volunteers and sponsors we created a very vibrant and visible presence — too big to miss— for San Antonio. We engaged with influencers from all over the country and the globe,” he said.

“And we helped educate a lot of people about life in San Antonio.  It’s just a first step for our organization, but it’s a symbolic step that marks the beginning of a new era in which we more consistency and effectively, and confidently, promote San Antonio to the world as a great place to live, work, and play.”

David Marquez, Bexar County’s economic development director, did not get to personally attend South by this year, but from what he has seen, read and heard, he is happy with how San Antonio’s SXSW initiative turned out. Marquez said the South by trip could help to boost the image of San Antonio as a growing city with an expanding, diversifying economy.

“We have to get out name out there in different ways. I think (SXSW trip) has proven successful with the traffic and a diverse audience. This helps to develop a new perception of San Antonio,” he said.

Marquez said he and other County officials liked that a private sector-led coalition assembled financial and logistical support for SATX@SXSW.

“These kinds of events makes it harder for a government to be a proper judge of what works for the private sector,” Marquez said, referring to private partners such as Choose San Antonio and Tech Bloc.

The public sector also played its part. The City’s Economic Development Department and Department for Culture and Creative Development sponsored the trade show space and Cruz Ortiz’s commissioned artwork, respectively.

The County Commissioners Court on March 22 approved paying $15,000 in County funds to Technology Connexus Association/FreeFlow Research, a local nonprofit. The organization, founded by Peter French, sponsored a startup community reception at Casa San Antonio on March 11.

Marquez said the County views Choose San Antonio in the same way it sees organizations such as Bio Med SA, a nonprofit that helps to promote an emerging local industry.

BioMed SA has received financial support from the County and the City. But according to Marquez, Choose San Antonio could have a long-term vision similar to that of BioMed SA and become more self-sustaining and reliant on its private sector partners.

Regardless, Choose San Antonio and its future missions to SXSW and similarly large conference, together, could help to have a profound impact on San Antonio’s economy in the years to come, said Marquez.

“We are pitching ourselves legitimately at South by Southwest. There are businesses who saw value in this,” Marquez added.

Christian Torres, community and events manager at Geekdom, said dozens of employees representing several Geekdom member companies and organizations attended the interactive part of SXSW.

The Geekdom building itself served as a hub for a chartered bus, which the local 80/20 Foundation helped to support. The bus shuttled about 50 riders over 12 round trips to and from Austin over the event’s first three days. Torres was an attendee, spending those three days in Austin.

“It was good to see how Geekdom members could benefit by going to South by, to make connections. People didn’t go there for free drinks or food,” he said. The shuttle was an attractive option for locals who could attend SXSW but had neither the lodging to stay overnight in Austin nor wished to deal with the traffic and parking challenges.

Torres said some shuttle arrivals in Austin were later than scheduled, so some visitors could not get on time to the events they planned to attend.

“That was sad to see, but overall a lot of people went up there to network, make those connections, meet financiers. They had a plan,” he added. Torres has been surveying fellow Geekdom members to see what they would like to see from future collective San Antonio missions to SXSW.

“The idea there is, if we (the City) decide to (go) again, we’d know what to do and how to do it,” he said. “It’s about how you maximize your time there.”

While most private and public sector partners chipped in money to sponsor an event or provided logistical support, local startups such as Grok Interactive and Merge VR promoted themselves in different ways.

For example, Grok developed an app that provided users with up-to-date information on official San Antonio activities at SXSW interactive. Merge VR demonstrated its virtual reality googles during the March 11 startup party and again for trade show visitors. Other companies with a San Antonio presence, such as WPEngine, had their own trade show booth independent of Choose San Antonio.

“There are a lot of roles local companies, partners of ours, can play at SXSW,” Peckham said. Torres and Peckham both said they envision future SATX@SXSW missions where more space and time can be allocated toward helping to showcase local startups and established companies.

Nicolette Good, program manager for Choose San Antonio, talks with a visitor at San Antonio's trade show space at South by Southwest in Austin on Sunday, March 13, 2016. Photo by Edmond Ortiz
Nicolette Good, program manager for Choose San Antonio, talks with a visitor at San Antonio’s trade show space at South by Southwest in Austin on Sunday, March 13, 2016. Photo by Edmond Ortiz

“It’d be cool to have a startup afternoon,” Torres said, imagining a SXSW activity where San Antonio startups each have exclusive access to a physical space in downtown Austin for a time. Representatives from each startup would recruit talent and network with potential investors, he added.

“I think Choose San Antonio did a great job. They had lots of great events and panels, but more can be done,” Torres said. Peckham agreed there’s room for improvement. He added the chartered shuttle, successful as it was, could be a more efficient activity for locals who want to attend.

Peckham also hopes to expand the San Antonio SXSW initiative by formally promoting local filmmakers in the festival’s film portion, and musicians in the music part. High school seniors–Alexia Salingaros of Saint Mary’s Hall, and Geoffrey Glenn from the North East School of the Arts–were chosen to the screen short films this year at SXSW. Additionally, the San Antonio Film Commission co-sponsored a filmmakers’ reception.

More than one dozen musical acts led by current and native San Antonians, from DJ Sermon to Patricia Vonne, had official musical showcases at SXSW, not counting unofficial performances.

“I’d love for us to support music,” Peckham said, adding though Choose San Antonio and its partners would need financial and logistical support from local musical venues and promoters to help grow San Antonio’s musical presence at SXSW.

“We want next year to be bigger and better. Also, we have some strategic planning to do as we select other events and opportunities to help us execute on our mission,” he also said.

Additionally, Choose San Antonio wants to help keep promoting what it calls a different side of San Antonio, to locals and visitors, in more homegrown events such as this year’s Fiesta. The nonprofit also plans to have a float in the Texas Cavaliers River Parade, and offer its own Fiesta medals.

“We just want to be consistent in our message,” Peckham added.

*Top Image: A banner hangs on 6th Street advertising the #SATXATSXSW event in Austin Texas.  Photo by Scott Ball. 

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Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.