Third time around you want more - more people, more sponsors, more challenges. That's the goal for these kinds of things, right?
Except when you've had two years of authentic, intimate interactions in a space that feels Goldilocks just right, all that "more" comes with some trepidation. Bigger doesn't equal better - even in Texas - and we'll always be quality over quantity types.
It became clear early on, though, that Michigan House// Austin 2017 had the opportunity to gain impact and become more inclusive if we went bigger. The challenge then was how do we grow the right way. How do we add "more" without losing the "less" that made it feel so right the last two years?
First the growth. It was real. For the first time we hosted official SXSW content in the form of 6 Michigan-inspired panel discussions. Working with Creative Many Michigan we were able to invite 24 leaders from around Michigan - mayors and CEOs, activists and entrepreneurs, designers and musicians - to bring their ideas and views to the big international stage that is the SXSW Conference.
With this step up came the need to find a more centralized location for the House. From actual houses in East Austin, we moved to a larger (and much more design challenging) church gymnasium in downtown Austin mere blocks from the Convention Center. This locale meant more walk-up traffic. It also meant security, permits, parking tickets, and did we mention the design challenges? It meant a need for more Michigan art, products, and sponsors to fill it up (happily we were able to meet this need thanks to increased statewide participation including the donation of nearly an entire kitchen set-up from Whirlpool Inc.). It meant more AV, staging, and a near constant worry that maybe no one would show up.
But show up they did - over 1400 in total. We had lines for the panels (no small feat at SXSW where so much is going on simultaneously), and they came for smaller sessions (including one that featured the mayors of Grand Rapids and Austin.) They came for the Michigan beer, wine, and conversation. They came for the music including an entire Michigan Music Showcase (check the Michigan House Mixtape recored at Stone House Recording for a taste). People came, they listened, they learned, they connected, and they did so on a large scale than ever before.
And yet if you asked, many of our partners would point to the backyard brunch that we held on Sunday morning as the highlight. The guest list was limited to 50, but the conversations and the connections were anything but small. Together around four long tables that had made the trip down from Michigan (thanks Fancy Fray) we shared biscuits and jam, breakfast charcuterie, and McClures powered bloody marys, and somehow the big international conference going on all around us took a back seat. It’s a lesson we’ve learned many times before but it never before had been so crystalized - it's the human touch that has the most impact.