'Big challenging topics' part of the SXSW and Michigan House experience: A Q&A with Larry Faragalli

The roving pop-up space, Michigan House, which travels across the country to share some of the best parts of our state with other cities, returned to Austin, Texas for the Southwest Music, Film, and Interactive Conference and Festival (SXSW) last week.

Described by organizers as a  "show, not tell" experience, the Michigan House gives visitors the chance to learn about multiple made-in-Michigan products, like All Day IPA from Founders and Leap Office Chair from Steelcase, as well as listen to numerous talented musicians who made the trip from the Mitten State to Austin.

Larry Faragalli and Marion Siebert, of the Grand Rapids-based digital design firm, brightly, were among a contingent of West Michigan attendees who spent time at SXSW and enjoyed the hospitality offerings at the Michigan House.

Faragalli is a champion of design and innovation in West Michigan. He is also a keen observer of the creative culture. He managed to carve out a little time while he was there to share his impressions of SXSW and the Michigan House.

How many times have you been to SXSW?
This is our first time at SXSW, and it has been a blast. I've been in Austin before for business/pleasure and knew I wanted to be here during the festival.

Why are you there this year? 
Honestly, we came out here for the experience first and foremost and to show support to the local causes we're invested in that are also participating in SXSW, like Failure:Lab and Michigan House. We wanted to approach this with an open mind and a flexible schedule and not make a networking thing out of it. Any relationships, business or otherwise, that come out of this will be purely serendipity.

What is the reaction to the Michigan House from non-Michiganders?  
Everyone that we talked to locally that checked out Michigan House loved it; even our Airbnb host got in on the action. The Michigan House crew did a great job of representing and showing off the creative side of the state (plus the Founder's beers and local distilleries). It's neat to see people go from inquiring about Michigan from a place of ignorance to getting excited to come check it out.

What is the most impressive, inspirational, awe-inspiring, mind-blowing thing about SXSW?  
I know SXSW has evolved into a bit of a festival monster and most folks are cynical about it, but I have been blown away by how excited and eager everyone is here to tackle big challenging topics and spend so much time passionately discussing community stewardship and cultural exchange.

Any other observations?
There has been a lot of interesting stuff here. We saw great panels with Anthony Bourdain and JJ Abrams, there has been a ton of virtual reality being used in interesting and not-so-interesting ways, and during the Founder's Tap Takeover at Stay Gold I turned around from grabbing a beer at the bar and found myself suddenly face-to-face with a live horse and a guy on his back.

How about the flip side of the coin.  Anything  you found mind-numbing about SXSW?
Getting pretty tired of bad DJs and over-the-top marketing at a lot of the venues.

‘Keep Austin Weird’ is a slogan used to promote local Austin businesses. Should Grand Rapids strive to be more weird?
I think GR needs to find its own identity. The piece we can, and should, emulate is greater empowerment of the creative class at all levels, not just for tech and professional design fields, and continue trying to foster more diversity and inclusiveness. The rest just follows. We also better hope we get our infrastructure figured out before we become this big or we're going to be having similar traffic gridlock.

The big question: Will the GRMI BBQ scene ever rival Austin BBQ?
Hahahaha. No.

You can check out the Michigan House on Facebook here or on the web here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 
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