SXSW ends US Army partnership after backlash from artists over Palestine

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South by Southwest has discontinued its partnership with the US Army and the defense contractor RTX Corporation for its 2025 festival in response to concerns from numerous artists who withdrew from the 2024 event, the festival announced on Wednesday.

“After careful consideration, we are revising our sponsorship model,” the festival said in a statement on its website’s FAQ page. “As a result, the US army, and companies who engage in weapons manufacturing, will not be sponsors of SXSW 2025.”

The film, culture and tech festival, held each March in Austin, Texas, will also discontinue its partnership with Collins Aerospace, a subsidiary of weapons manufacturer RTX Corporation, formerly known as Raytheon.

Over 80 artists withdrew from the 2024 festival in support of Palestine after Israel’s invasion of Gaza, citing SXSW’s ties to the weapons manufacturer and its sponsorship by the US army.

The boycott was led by the Chicago-based songwriter Ella Williams, AKA Squirrel Flower, who published a statement on her Instagram. “These defense contractors make the weapons that the IDF uses to bomb Gaza. The IDF has now killed at least one in every 75 inhabitants of Gaza, [and] I refuse to be complicit in that,” she wrote. “I don’t believe that a music festival should include profiteers of war – I believe that art is a tool to create a better world and has no place alongside warmongers.”

The US army was listed as a “super sponsor” of the 2024 festival, and was slated to present more than nine events, while Collins Aerospace sponsored two events at SXSW Pitch, the festival’s tech showcase. RTX has supplied weapons to the Israeli government; on an earnings call in late October last year, its chairman and executive director, Greg Hayes, was quoted as saying the company stood to “benefit” from the increased Department of Defense budget due to Israel’s war in Gaza.

Shortly after Williams published her statement, other showcasing artists, including the Brooklyn-based emo band Proper, the Los Angeles-based indie band Mamalarky and the North Carolina-based singer-songwriter Eliza McLamb, followed suit. Mamalarky’s Noor Khan said it was a “really easy decision” to pull out of the festival, because “playing these two official shows could never bring us anything that matters more than the lives that are being lost in Palestine today”.

The festival initially defended the partnerships while supporting the boycotting artists, saying in a statement: “We fully respect the decision these artists made to exercise their right to free speech. Across the globe, we are witnessing unspeakable tragedies, the rise of repressive regimes, and the increasing spread of violent conflict. It’s more crucial than ever that we come together to solve these greater humanitarian issues. The defense industry has historically been a proving ground for many of the systems we rely on today. These institutions are often leaders in emerging technologies, and we believe it’s better to understand how their approach will impact our lives.”

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In contrast, Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, sent a blunter message to the boycotting musicians. “Bye. Don’t come back,” the Republican governor wrote on X. “We are proud of the US military in Texas. If you don’t like it, don’t come here.”

The 2025 SXSW festival will be held from 7-15 March in downtown Austin, while a new offshoot will take place in London in June 2025.


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