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‘They don’t care about anyone’: Musician cancels SXSW show after contract threatens to deport artists

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Musician Felix Walworth wrote on Twitter that they were canceling Told Slant’s performance at the South By Southwest festival in mid-March, after receiving a contract from the institution that threatens deportation in cases of unauthorized performances.

According to the contract Walworth received and shared to Twitter, SXSW’s attempt at stopping unofficial performances from taking place outside of the festival also included a threat to “notify the appropriate U.S. Immigration authorities of the above actions.” The contract adds that “accepting and performing at any non-sanctioned events may result in immediate deportation, revoked passport, and denied entry by US Customs Border Patrol at US points of entry.”

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The AV Club’s reporting notes that sanctions for U.S. citizens include canceled hotel rooms and a revoked SXSW badge, which are minor in comparison to threats of alerting immigration officials and deportation. According to Stereogum, the provision in the contract is not new.

But given the recent rise in government-sanctioned Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids, it makes an important statement to international artists, who could lose the right to return to the U.S. if penalized.

SXSW co-director Nick Barbaro told Raw Story in an emailed statement the contract notes, “that artists entering the country on a non-work visa (i.e., it is a condition of their entry that they not be paid for work while they’re here), may face sanctions, including deportation, if they violate the terms of their visa. This is between them and the U.S. government, not involving SXSW.”

See the contract via Felix Walworth below:

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The festival added a showcase this year called Contrabanned: #MusicUnites, featuring artists from the seven majority-Muslim countries listed on President Donald Trump’s original executive order from which travel and immigration was barred. However, holding such a showcase may not be enough to show solidarity or support for artists without U.S. citizenship, especially while threatening sanctions, such as deportation.

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Slant has cancelled their appearance in response to the contract. Walworth wrote in a series of tweets, “I’m not interested in aligning myself with an institution that interacts with immigration authorities as a means of controlling where art is shared and performed, and who makes money off of it.”

Walworth called out the festival, arguing that it “uses an imperialist model and prioritizes centralizing and packaging culture over communities & people’s safety.”

Walworth added, “It’s no secret that sxsw has played a huge role in the process austin’s [sic] rapid gentrification. the whole festival exists to the detriment of working class people & people of color in Austin. That they’re willing to threaten deportation is enough evidence for me that they don’t care about anyone including the artists that lend them their legitimacy.”

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The tweets ended with a call for artists to not work with institutions like SXSW or “any larger institution,” adding “We need to set up alternatives.”

UPDATE: SXSW CEO and Co-founder Roland Swenson provided Raw Story with the following statement:

SXSW has been vocal in its opposition to President Trump’s Travel Ban and is working hard to build a coalition of attorneys to assist artists with issues at U.S. ports of entry during the event. We have artists from 62 countries from around the world performing and have always supported our international music community. We have never reported international showcasing artists to immigration authorities.


We were sorry to learn that one of our invited performers chose to cancel his performance at this year’s SXSW Music Festival due to a misunderstanding of our policies regarding international artists.


We understand that given the current political climate surrounding immigration, the language that was published seems strong. Violating U.S. immigration law has always carried potentially severe consequences, and we would be remiss not to warn our participating acts of the likely repercussions.


Language governing SXSW’s ability to protect a showcase has been in the artist Performance Agreement for many years. It is, and always was intended to be, a safeguard to provide SXSW with a means to respond to an act that does something truly egregious, such as disobeying our rules about pyrotechnics on stage, starting a brawl in a club, or causing serious safety issues.


The SXSW Performance Agreement states:


If SXSW determines, in its sole discretion, that Artist or its representatives have acted in ways that adversely affect the viability of Artist’s official SXSW showcase, the following actions are available to SXSW:
     Artist will be removed from their official SXSW showcase and, at SXSW’s sole option, replaced.
     Any hotels booked via SXSW Housing will be canceled.
     Artist’s credentials will be canceled.
     SXSW will notify the appropriate U.S. immigration authorities of the above actions.


We hope never to be put in the position to act on this. Indeed, we spend a great deal of time communicating with international artists concerning numerous issues, including how to avoid issues at U.S. ports of entry.


Moreover, there is language in the Performance Agreement which is included to inform foreign artists that the U.S. immigration authorities have mechanisms to create trouble for artists who ignore U.S. immigration laws. For example, those acts coming to SXSW to perform without a work visa are limited, by U.S. immigration law, to performing their showcase event only. If an artist wishes to perform elsewhere, they will require a work visa.


As such, both to protect SXSW and the interests of all the participating artists, we long ago added this language to our Performance Agreement:
1.4. Foreign Artists entering the country through the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), B visa or any non-work visa may not perform at any public or unofficial shows, DAY OR NIGHT, in Austin from March 10-19, 2017. Accepting and performing at unofficial events (including unofficial events aside from SXSW Music dates during their visit to the United States) may result in immediate deportation, revoked passport and denied entry by US Customs Border Patrol at US ports of entry. For more information, please visit these pages:

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