By: Alyson Svec
Hugh Forrest, director of South by Southwest Interactive, discussed the history and background as well as planning for the events at SXSW.
Born in Austin, Forrest attended college in Ohio, then returned to his hometown after working with newspapers in the mid-eighties.
A few years later, a few guys he knew from SXSW called him to put a database on their computer and this started his career with this program. He was so good, they asked him to work with multimedia.
“I was at the right place, at the right time,” said Forrest.
Starting as a big music event in 1987, it continued to grow. In 1995, three sections were included: Music, Film and Multimedia.
SXSW Interactive started as the smallest portion of the event, which would not have survived without the music, but is currently the largest, central aspect.
“We have had significant growth over the past five years,” said Forrest. “The best results happen by a small organic growth.”
Forrest said this is possible because they are lucky enough to tackle a very creative community. In Austin, there are passionate people, and those who told their friends, or posted information on Facebook or Twitter.
Forrest believes the people, weather, and the vibe are important in Austin.
“There is magic here,” said Forrest.
SXSW occurs every year in March. There are five days of panels and presentations, 20,000 industry leaders and digital creators who come to speak and build connections between all universals.
“It is one of my favorite times of the year,” said Prof. Cindy Royal.
Interactive has evolved to using 13 different campuses, which will include hundreds of sessions in 2012.
“As much time as we spend there, the real heart is the connections we make, and finding someone who has similar interests,” said Forrest.
During the summer, people vote using the Panel Picker to choose who they want to speak at the event. The progress of this has grown to 3,200 proposals from the United States and the rest of the world.
“It is a tool of communication for our audience,” said Forrest.
Forrest also offered advice for the job search: Be able to read and write and keep up with news. Forrest has hired a few Texas State graduates who have worked as volunteers at SXSW.
Although scaling the event is a huge challenge, SXSW Interactive tries to produce quality events and have an audience come to learn, inspire and make connections.