South by South Lawn:

A White House Festival of Ideas, Art, and Action

SXSL - Recap

A Peek Inside the First-Ever SXSL

A Peek Inside SXSL: A Festival at the White House

It was a festival of ideas, art, and action where changemakers, activists, and artists came together on the White House South Lawn to share how they're changing their communities.

SXSL - About

About SXSL

Earlier this year, President Obama traveled to South by Southwest® for a conversation on civic engagement. In Austin, he called on creative thinkers and entrepreneurs from across the country to help tackle our toughest challenges. On Monday, October 3, we celebrated that spirit of innovation at South by South Lawn, a White House festival of ideas, art, and action.

At SXSL, we celebrated the inspiring work that so many Americans have already accomplished—called on everyone to roll up their sleeves and discover their own way to make a positive difference in our country.

SXSL - Before the Flood

President Obama in Conversation with Leonardo DiCaprio and Dr. Katharine Hayhoe

Watch the conversation on Youtube

President Obama joined conversation with Academy Award-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio and climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe about the importance of protecting the one planet we’ve got for future generations.

Following the conversation, attendees watched the domestic premiere of DiCaprio’s new climate documentary film Before the Flood presented by National Geographic in a first-of-its-kind film screening on the South Lawn of the White House.

SXSL - Interactive


SXSL hosted panel discussions throughout the day that explored how leaders in art, technology, food, innovation, and social change are helping to move the country forward. Interactive booths gave attendees a hands-on opportunity to engage with and learn about new products and types of content that are transforming how we interact with our world.

Breakfast Session at the Newseum

Hard Things are Hard: A Conversation with James Turrell and David Adjaye (Newseum)

Watch the conversation on Youtube

On the President’s desk there’s a plaque that reads, “Hard things are hard.” For artist James Turrell and architect David Adjaye, taking on the hard work has motivated them to push physical limits, build audacious structures, and consistently challenge the standards of art and architecture. For over half a century, Turrell has worked with light and space to create works that challenge the limits of human perception. Since the late 1970s, he has been working on Roden Crater, a large-scale artwork created within a volcanic cinder cone in Northern Arizona. Adjaye, has designed innovative structures around the world including to London’s Rivington Place, the Nobel Peace Center in Norway, and D.C’s newest landmark, the National Museum of African American History and Culture. To kick-off SXSL, in a conversation moderated by LACMA's Michael Govan, Turrell and Adjaye discussed challenges and rewards of taking on the “hard things” through their groundbreaking projects. This event was hosted at the Newseum, in collaboration with Events DC.

Afternoon Session on the South Lawn

Fixing Real Problems

How can we harness technology to solve our biggest, most stubborn problems?

Watch the conversation on Youtube

At South by Southwest® earlier this year, President Obama called on the tech community to focus its attention on making America and the world more tolerant, fair, healthy, and full of opportunities. This panel explored the work of entrepreneurs and social innovators who are leveraging new technologies to address some of our most critical challenges—and asked you to think about how you might lend your own time and efforts toward lasting change.

Jenna Wortham, staff writer for The New York Times Magazine

Stewart Butterfield, co-founder and CEO of Slack
Jukay Hsu, founder of Coalition for Queens (C4Q)
Chris Redlitz, managing partner of Transmedia Capital
Nina Tandon, co-founder and CEO of EpiBone

Learn more about the Fixing Real Problems panel here.

Afternoon Session on the South Lawn

Feeding the Future

How will we sustainably feed ourselves in the coming decades?

Watch the conversation on Youtube

Ballooning populations, evolving diets, and a changing climate present serious obstacles to our future food supply. This panel introduced us to some of the people leading the charge to make food more accessible, sustainable, and healthy, and explored the role you can play to best prepare for the future of food in your own community.

Danielle Gould, founder of Food+Tech Connect

Will Allen, farmer, founder and CEO of Growing Power
Maria Rose Belding, co-founder and executive director of the MEANS Database
Caleb Harper, principal investigator and director of the Open Agriculture Initiative (OpenAG) at the MIT Media Lab
Nikiko Masumoto, organic farmer and agrarian artist

Learn more about the Feeding the Future panel here.

Afternoon Session on the South Lawn

LA, a Case Study in Innovation

How do we foster innovation and collaboration in cities and local communities?

Watch the conversation on Youtube

Los Angeles offers some good lessons. While the city owes part of its dynamism to the growing presence of new tech and media firms, its progress has been driven by leaders in non-profits, government, and social innovation working together to brighten the future for the City of Angels. Watch the panel to find out how they’re doing it, and get inspired to improve the dynamism and resilience in the community where you live.

Jonathan Gold, Los Angeles Times

Yael Aflalo, founder and CEO of Reformation
Krisztina 'Z' Holly, Chief Instigator of the MAKE IT IN LA initiative
Oscar Menjivar, founder and CEO of URBAN Teens eXploring Technology (URBAN TxT)
Brian Mullins, founder and CEO of DAQRI

Learn more about the LA, a Case Study in Innovation panel here.

Afternoon Session on the South Lawn

How We Make Change

What role do citizens have in bringing real and lasting change to our country?

Watch the conversation on Youtube

"America is not the project of any one person," President Obama said in Selma last year. “The single-most powerful word in our democracy is the word ‘We.’” Indeed, unelected citizens seeking change—people channeling the power of "We"—have been behind some of the biggest social and economic movements of the past eight years, from achieving landmark victories in the struggle for LGBT rights to shining a new light on the enduring struggle for civil rights. These agents of change have transformed hashtags into movements and delivered real progress in our society. Find out how they did it, and what you can do to bring about the change you want to see in the world.

The Honorable John Lewis, congressman and civil rights icon

Anil Dash, entrepreneur and activist

Brittany Packnett,  Vice President of National Community Alliances at Teach For America and co-founder of Campaign Zero
Carmen Rojas, CEO of The Workers Lab
Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry

Learn more about the How We Make Change panel here.

SXSL - Music


The event featured musical performances from both well-known and emerging artists who are using their music to inspire. The lineup included:

The Lumineers

The Dap-Kings

DJ Beverly Bond


Black Alley

SXSL - Film


The White House Student Film Fest

On Sunday, October 2, the American Film Institute (AFI) welcomed the young artists of the 3rd Annual White House Student Film Festival with a day to premiere their work. Students in grades K-12 submitted more than 700 short films on this year's theme: “The World I Want to Live In.” Some of these aspiring filmmakers from around the nation will be joined by professional artists who work behind and in front of the camera. Special guests included Stranger Things creators Matt and Ross Duffer, Executive Producers Dan Cohen and Shawn Levy, and President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities member Alfre Woodard.

At the South Lawn festival on Monday, three official student film selections were screened along with appearances by members of the Stranger Things cast: Millie Bobby Brown (Elle), Caleb McLaughlin (Lucas), Finn Wolfhard (Mike) and Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin). The AFI will continue to nurture these young artists and their storytelling skills by providing Film Fest participants with one-on-one mentorships with alumni from the AFI Conservatory.

Watch the 13 official selections that premiered at the Film Festival.

SXSL - Exhibits

Interactive Exhibits


Learn firsthand what it’s like to be locked up in solitary confinement in this virtual reality experience that places the viewer inside a 6-foot by 9-foot cell with little more than a bed and toilet. In the 9-minute experience, people can witness the psychological impacts of confinement like blurred vision, hallucinations, and a sense of floating that may occur after long-term sensory deprivation. The innovative documentary, conceived by The Guardian and created in collaboration with The Mill, was generated using game engine technology, using first person accounts as reference for both the cell design and spatial audio capture.

Cancer Moonshot: SXSL

At the Cancer Moonshoot booth, visitors were able to interact with technology and experience the future of cancer care, share how they’ve been affected by cancer as part of a compiled video diary, and learn about volunteer opportunities in their communities. Visitors engaged with an Internet of Things experience that shows how wearable technology could enable greater collaboration between cancer patients, physicians, and scientists to improve cancer care delivery.

Chuck Close: Large Format Polaroid Portraits

Chuck Close, President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities member, is best known for his large-scale, photo based portrait paintings. He is also an accomplished printmaker and photographer whose work has been the subject of more than 200 solo exhibitions in more than 20 countries, including major retrospective exhibitions at New York's Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and most recently at The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. At South by South Lawn, Chuck captured life-size portraits using a 20-by-24-inch Polaroid camera.

David Garibaldi: Art with Passion and Purpose

Few modern artists have the ability to transform a blank canvas into an arresting creative work like David Garibaldi. Hailing from Sacramento, David turned his passion for graffiti into an explosive career by mixing the creative elements of street art and popular music and culture into a riveting painting performance in which he can create life-size portraits within 6 minutes. A finalist on America’s Got Talent, David performs at shows across the country, including at events like the NBA Finals and several award shows. To him, every performance is an opportunity to give back, either through teaching young people to explore their talents or through providing resources and support to the community.


#FacesofFounders celebrates the millions of diverse entrepreneurs in America. Startup culture tells us that anyone can bring forward the next big idea. Yet, all too often women entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color are left on the sidelines. The Case Foundation, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, Google for Entrepreneurs, UBS and Fast Company invited visitors get their special SXSL photo snapped and join the movement for a more inclusive approach to entrepreneurship.

Find Your Park Machine

The National Park Foundation has a new way to inspire the youngest generation of innovators to find their park. As part of the National Park Service’s Centennial celebration and the Find Your Park/Encuentra Tu Parque movement, the Find Your Park Machine is a digital wayfinding sign that gives visitors the opportunity to experience all of America’s 400+ national parks in 60 seconds using audio, visual, and geo-location elements.

Food + Future

Food + Future is a group of entrepreneurs, based in Cambridge, MA, that is exploring the future of food, solving major food challenges, and building food-related businesses. At SXSL, the team—a collaboration between Target, IDEO, and MIT Media Lab—will showcase cutting-edge technologies that are helping people understand more about their food. The interactive space will feature three initiatives. POLY helps kids understand where their food comes from through fun, interactive classroom experiments. Illuminate helps individuals and companies understand exactly what they are selling and buying -- and how their choices will personally impact people. The Open Agriculture initiative helps farmers of all size understand the science of their environment in order to help them create healthier, more sustainable food systems.

Investigating Normal: Design for Every Body

Sara Hendren and the Adaption + Ability Group at Olin College gave visitors an immersive, interactive, and surprising look at technologies for human ability, disability, and body variation. From things you wear to the environments you live in, this large-scale installation invites people to test the basic assumptions we make about what counts as normal. Whether its ramps for skateboarders and wheelchair users, furniture for unusually short stature, or customized prosthetic limbs, visitors investigated the designs that have helped and hindered atypical bodies.

Justice For Us

Through the signature digital experience, visitors will be able to take an empathy-inducing look into the system through the eyes of those most entrenched in it. At SXSL, visitors participated in an interactive story-game that allowed them to step into the shoes of a judge and make decisions that directly affect the lives of individuals and our society at large.

Open Your Eyes

MTV’s Open Your Eyes, an art show taking place entirely in virtual reality, features artists and young people creating 3D immersive visualizations of their personal takes on issues including gun violence, climate change, and immigration, among others. The audience were able to watch an artist create art in front of their eyes; step inside and around the virtual artifacts; and even don a headset and create their own issue-themed art.

All of the art was created by the artists using Google’s Tilt Brush, a painting application built for virtual reality platforms. Tilt Brush allows users to paint in 3D space, encouraging an entirely new style of expression and establishing a new medium for creation.

Park People by Nathan Sawaya

The White House South Lawn also happens to be a National Park. So as SXSL visitors toured the grounds, they saw some original art work from Nathan Sawaya, an award-winning artist who creates inventive works of art from LEGO® bricks, including painstakingly crafted, life-size scale LEGO sculptures resting on the park benches that dot the South Lawn.

President Obama + Yosemite in 3D

Through the Ages: President Obama celebrates America’s National Parks transports you on a journey to Yosemite with President Obama as he honors the legacy of our country’s national parks. This first-ever virtual reality experience featuring a sitting president provides an up-close-and-personal look at President Obama’s trip to Yosemite with his family over Father’s Day weekend this year. Visitors could hear from President Obama firsthand as he reflects on the importance of conservation and combating climate change while you explore every angle of the breathtaking surroundings, including El Capitan, the Cathedral Rocks, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite Falls and the Merced River.

Round Robots

This interactive booth, run collaboratively by Black Girls CODE and Sphero, gave participants the opportunity to paint, program, and play with round robots. The hands-on experience brought coding to life while showcasing how fun it is to learn the fundamentals of computer science.

Soldering Station

From the early days of the Homebrew Computer Club to our modern-day wearables, knowing how to connect the dots on electronic boards is a foundational skill for our digital age. To empower even more people with the tools of maker and hands-on computer science, attendees joined Nick Cannon and the team from RadioShack to learn firsthand how to solder and build maker projects.

Startup in the White House

The U.S. Digital Service and the Presidential Innovation Fellows program are bringing top technologists into the federal government to tackle our nation's most important challenges. From modernizing our immigration system, to improving our veterans' access to benefits, to increasing access to cancer clinical trials, these teams are using design and technology to build a more awesome government for all Americans. Visitors could meet the team on the South Lawn to see demos of their work and learn how we can all help bring public service into the 21st century.

Seed to Stove

Attendees had the opportunity to both see and taste the whole food cycle like never before with the celebrated Chef José Andrés and Bill Yosses. Guests will taste food picked fresh Green Bronx Machine’s tower aeroponic systems and prepared by Bill Yosses. They could see how efficient, sustainable and affordable clean cooking technologies can meet the needs of people around the world through clean cookstove demonstrations led by Chef José Andrés.

Tattly: Art You Can Wear

Tattly Temporary Tattoos invited artists Karen Steinecke, Hayden Davis and Dirty Bandits (Annica Lydenberg) to create custom artwork for limited edition Custom Tattly to be applied on guests at SXSL. Tattly representatives helped attendees apply the tattoos and create some temporary fun on everyone's sleeves. Designs included the Barack and Joe friendship bracelet, along with beautiful hand-drawn treatments of Optimism, Change, and Freedom. Also available was a We The People Custom Tattly and Julia Rothman's Statue of Liberty design.

The Latest Smart Wearables

DAQRI is the world’s leading enterprise augmented reality company. As part of the interactive portion of South by South Lawn, DAQRI will be showcasing its revolutionary products and technologies. DAQRI Founder and CEO Brian Mullins will also be sharing his insight on the future of AR during the panel discussion portion of the event. Attendees had access to the latest information on wearables like DAQRI Smart Helmet™, next-generation phase modulator displays, and cutting-edge computer vision products, delivering on the DAQRI promise to bring AR everywhere.

SXSL Social Media Activated Sign

Created by Adam Savage with a team of maker spaces in Baltimore, the SXSL sign physically embodies the interactive nature of the whole event. The seven-feet tall letters are internally illuminated with LEDs that respond to social media activity throughout the day.

To-Do Note Installation

There is still a lot of work left to do and, with the help of a sticky-note installation designed by Illegal Art, a collective of artists whose goal is to create participatory-based public art, attendees can jot down the actions that they will take after South By South Lawn to continue to make a positive impact in their community, in the country, or the world. This installation of To-Do was made possible by the generosity and expertise of IDEO.

The Up Next Lounge

The Up Next lounge provided a place for SXSL attendees to relax and charge their devices, while also highlighting its mobile messaging platform, the Better Make Room campaign, and First Lady Michelle Obama’s "Reach Higher" initiative. Up Next provides high school and college students and college graduates with information, encouragement, and assistance with college applications, financial aid, and loan repayment. Visitors to the Up Next lounge got to immerse in the Up Next messaging experience. They will be able to interact with the message flows that students are receiving this fall; create motivational messages and images to send to students in their schools and communities; and see how Up Next texting technology provides real-time, one-on-one college and financial aid advising from an Up Next advisor.


The Starbucks Upstanders Booth offered an interactive experience to inspire attendees by sharing stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things to create positive change in their communities. Attendees will have an opportunity to record and share their own Upstander story. Participants' stories will be considered for the next season of the Starbucks Upstanders series.

SXSL - Special thanks

Special Thanks

South by South Lawn was made possible thanks to support from National Geographic, Craig Newmark Foundation, DAQRI, Exelon Foundation, Hyatt, Obvious Ventures, Sara & Evan Williams Foundation, Simons Foundation, Starbucks, and Target.

SXSL - Food


Food and beverages at the event were provided by Chaia, KIND Snacks, Little Sesame, Milk Bar, Sir Kensington's, and Sweetgreen.

Chaia Tacos: Chaia served three "farm to taco" selections in hand-made tortillas, including a Market Mushroom, a creamy Kale + Potato, and a Roasted Eggplant taco.

KIND Snacks: During a snack break, KIND provided nutritional bars that feature natural ingredients.

Little Sesame: Little Sesame served hummus bowls, topped with the seasonal ingredients with an eye on sustainability.

Milk Bar: Milk Bar served signature milk bar treats like compost cookies® (pretzels, potato chips, choco chips & more), crack pie® (toasted oat crust with a gooey butter filling), and b'day truffles (a birthday party in a bite).

Sir Kensington: Sir Kensington's served fries and Fabanaise, egg-free mayo made with aquafaba.

Sweetgreen: Sweetgreen offered salads from its fall menu and a signature favorite, the Kale Caesar, which features organic ingredients from local farmers.

SXSL - Styles