The connection between Michigan and Austin, Texas may not seem an obvious one. But the "Michigan House" spotlighting Michigan leaders and products has grown steadily at Austin's annual South by Southwest (SXSW) conference and will this year expand again to include more significant representation for Ann Arbor.
This year's SXSW, which runs March 9-18, will be the fourth for Michigan House, a project of Detroit-based nonprofit Creative Many Michigan (formerly ArtServe Michigan). Creative Many has had a presence at the media, music, film, and tech conference in Austin for at least 10 years, according to Joe Voss, the organization's director of strategic partnerships.
Creative Many members would attend and also send speakers to SXSW, since Creative Many's mission is to foster the development of creative professionals in Michigan. They'd also take ideas back to Michigan from SXSW.
Five years ago, Voss noticed that a lot of Michigan groups, companies, and individuals were attending SXSW, and thought that they could do even more if they worked together. From that came the first Michigan House in 2015.
"We essentially rented a house, took everything out of the house, and put all Michigan stuff in it," Voss says. "It became a hospitality experience for Michigan-connected organizations, companies, and individuals, and it's grown from there."
For the 2018 conference, the Michigan House will move into a venue right downtown near the Austin Convention Center. Creative Many worked out a deal with SXSW so that its members get discounted admission to the conference. Michigan House panels on March 10 will be part of SXSW's official programming, though other Michigan-related panels are scheduled throughout the conference.
There has been some Ann Arbor participation from the first Michigan House, but that has expanded in 2018 to include more panelists with Washtenaw County connections, including representatives of Ann Arbor SPARK, the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor coworking space Cahoots, and autonomous microtransit company May Mobility, in addition to many representatives from Detroit, Lansing, and Grand Rapids.
Voss says that a Michigan story that sparked a lot of interest this year was the issue of mobility, so several panel discussions will feature that topic. Many Michigan House panels will also focus on the issue of water and the Great Lakes, as well as some community health issues.
"It's awesome to have Ann Arbor in the mix more than ever," Voss says.
A full list of participants and a schedule of Michigan House panels is available here.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of Michigan House.