The Role of the artist is to fill in the holes where school is missing things.” – Tierney Oberhammer, Flocabulary
SXSW on the surface is the annual conglomerate of film, interactive media, and music festival and conference. If you dig under some of the noise and way past what many call the corporate underbelly, SXSW is the best University money can buy. Students travel from around the world, some with press badges, to listen, to understand and to learn. There has never been a more important time for a SXSW than there is today.
The teachers are people like you and me. Some have achieved infinite success like former Vice President Joe Biden and the Wu-Tang Clan. Others are climbing the corporate ladder, having directorial debuts and performing a song off their first mixtape. They attend SXSW to share their stories. To share their struggles. Most of the time they become nervous to share the work that they have been working on. Above all, they’re coming to teach, to rally the troops and to get students to join their causes.
Over and over we heard artists like Bishop Briggs say “It has always been our dream to perform at SXSW.”
Sure, they say this due to the immense opportunity that can stem from performing at SXSW but it is the type of opportunity that can come out of SXSW has most appealing. People head to SXSW to hear something new and to become part of something they haven’t been a part of before. They line up to get into conferences, films and music venues often having no idea who they’re lining up to see. They are open to something new. Open to give someone else a chance to engage them and to inspire them.
One of the many interactive panels we attend was titled “Can Hip Hop Save the World?”. Moderated by artist/rapper/teacher Jamel Chapel, panelist, including flocabulary’s Tierney Oberhammer and artists Chen Lo and OSHUN, discussed whether Hip/Hop can save the world. In short they said no. Hip/Hop cannot alone save the world but the mentality, the mentality of youth culture can be a tool to save the world. The panelist discussed the importance of youth culture, which often gets looked down on and ostracized by older generations who do not understand it. Youth culture, they all agreed, is what is leading the world and ergo, can save it.
The role of the artist today is to understand youth culture. OSHUN discussed how important it is for them and other artists to not just react but to respond and to be prepared to be on the frontline of youth culture and the things they care about. Chen Lo called out to artists in the room to ‘use your voice… build initiations, build platforms, for people of color”. Gone are the days of the artist performing to perform, today artists are so much more. They are teachers on the front lines. They are voices for a generation. And they have the capacity to bring us together to make a difference and hopefully save the world.
Many may and will criticize SXSW. Some will have valid reasons. There will be some who talk about how artists are selling out to corporations. Others will talk about the progressive nature of the conference not completely representing everyone. And they may be right. But SXSW is still important. Fostering ideas is still important. The arts are still important. Having open minds to learn something different is still important.
The word “I” did not come up much at any panel or film or concert or street art performance. There is a lot we can learn from one another and SXSW is a great place to do that. SXSW is where the artist becomes the teacher but it doesn’t stop there. Artists are teachers and they can bring us all together. Once together we can do what we can to try and save the world.