Volunteering for SXSW

It’s Friday! Excitement!

Of course, I’m always excited for Friday, but I’m especially excited this week. Reason being- I’m EXHAUSTED. SXSW will do that to you!

If you’re not familiar, SXSW is a set of interactive, film and music festivals and conferences held in Austin every March. There are other components too- gaming, comedy, style, etc. It’s a BIG deal, and the event contributes more than $160 million to¬†Austin’s economy annually.

When I moved here, I promised myself that I’d get involved with SXSW every year, at least in some capacity, and so far I’ve kept true to that. This was my second year volunteering and although it’s quite a commitment, it’s absolutely worth it.

Stateside Theater, night and day.

Stateside Theater, night and day.

Austinites, if you’re interested in volunteering for SXSW, DO it. I really can’t recommend it enough. Again, I’m only two years in and don’t profess to be an expert on the topic, but I’ll share a bit about my experience with it.

PROS —

The badge. The chief perk of volunteering for SXSW? You earn a badge. Now, there are plenty of events open to the larger public during SXSW, but most of the main attractions- panels, film screenings, concerts, parties- are badge-only events. There are several types of badges available- Interactive, Film, Music, Gold (Interactive and Film) and Platinum (Interactive, Film and Music). You can earn any kind of badge, depending on how much time you invest and the type of work you do.

Behind the scenes action. Both years, I’ve worked as a production volunteer on the Stateside film venue crew (I talk about the different kinds of volunteer positions below). We’re responsible for seating film screenings, managing lines outside the theaters, communicating with other venues about capacity and availability, and accepting ballots, among other things. I’m hardly a film buff, but I really enjoy the film component of SXSW. We’re often welcome to sit in on screenings when there are open seats, and you see a lot of celebrities. This year, Mud, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and Sound City all premiered next door at the Paramount, so I spotted Steve Carell, Jim Carrey, Matthew McConaughey and Dave Grohl while working shifts.

Pretty hard to see, but from left to right that's Steve Carell, Dave Grohl and Matthew McConaughey

Pretty hard to see, but from left to right that’s Steve Carell, Dave Grohl and Matthew McConaughey

Networking. I don’t care what line of work you’re in, you’ll meet interesting people during SXSW. This might be the best part really. I love getting to know the other volunteers and chatting with people I wouldn’t have met under other circumstances.

Tech Cocktail event at Stage on 6th.

Tech Cocktail event at Stage on 6th.

Buzz and free stuff. Austin really comes alive during SXSW, and it’s just a lot of fun to be downtown at the center of it all. Volunteering keeps you informed about which events are getting a lot of buzz and traffic. You won’t waste time waiting in line for a film that’s gotten a poor response, and you’ll know where to find free booze and food.

T-shirts. Every volunteer receives two. It’s not a huge perk, of course, but still worth mentioning. Gap sponsored the T-shirts this year, so they were really soft and comfortable. I’m sure I’ll wear mine for years to come.

Loved this year's design!

Loved this year’s design!

CONS —

Time. Volunteering for SXSW is a BIG time commitment, no matter what role you take on. FYI, there are two different categories of volunteers- conference and production. The main differences between the two are how your time/hours are tallied and the perks available. Conference volunteers work hours toward their perk, and production volunteers work a set number of shifts. Be prepared to invest at least 30-80 hours of your time. Both years, I ended up putting in around 40-50 hours to earn my perk of choice, a Gold Badge.

Traffic and parking. I’m listing traffic as a con, but it really hasn’t been a big problem for me personally. I live south of downtown, so driving north at the hours of my shifts hasn’t been bad at all. I’ve heard different things from those making the trip from up north. Parking, like traffic, doesn’t necessarily have to be an issue. If you’re willing to walk, there is ample free parking south of the river around the Palmer Center and in neighborhoods off South Lamar and Zilker Park. I normally park near the Palmer and can be at the Stateside Theater after a 20 minute (brisk) walk. I’m sure there are plenty of other free places to park- ask around! Many people bike in too. Just be sure to bring a good lock.

Really, those are the only cons I can think of! I’ve had a wonderful experience both years and strongly recommend getting involved.