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Photograph: Shutterstock/Nicholas Lamontanaro

With large gatherings on hold, this Wynwood events producer is finding new ways to connect with the community

From throwing Wynwood’s biggest parties to launching a radio station and pioneering drive-through events, SWARM is adapting and thriving.

Virginia Gil
Written by
Virginia Gil

Every single one of Miami’s neighborhoods was affected by the lockdown, but none more visibly than Wynwood. For the last six months, there have been no throngs of tourists lining the streets, no crowds scoping out the Wynwood Walls (which remain closed) and absolutely no block parties to speak of. It’s a stark contrast to an area that hosted thousands of people for Super Bowl Week a month before shutting down. And even today as industries recover and venues reopen, the events community is still reeling.

SWARM is one of the businesses grappling with the realities of lockdown and social distancing. The agency, which formed eight years ago, has been largely responsible for the neighborhood’s major events. It led the charge in giving locals an alternative to South Beach’s clubcentric nightlife and made the neighborhood a destination for holiday celebrations—from St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo to Halloween and New Year’s Eve, and many others. Since launching its event spaces inside Mana—the Wynwood Marketplace and the Deck—SWARM has lived up to its name, packing in the people at every turn.

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But lately, it’s been quiet and grim at times. SWARM has had to cancel its entire calendar of events from March through December and, as a result, furloughed 90-percent of its staff. The team—comprised of cofounders Javi Zayas and Harry Davidson, and a tight-knit crew of 15 others—has had to shift its focus from galvanizing crowds to connecting with the community from a distance. “The whole world was this uncertain bubble and we’ve just taken it week by week, starting with SWARM radio,” says Zayas of the online station the company launched back in June. “We wanted to keep the brand relevant but also wanted to give people something fun and positive to do at home,” he says. The response has been great so far for SWARM Radio, which is available on Apple Music, Spotify and iHeart Radio. The dozens of custom playlists created by the same DJs folks were used to seeing IRL have provided the soundtrack to countless at-home dance parties.

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SWARM’s also used the imposed hiatus for community service, supporting a number of neighborhood food drives this summer, and went full-throttle on the construction of a new and improved venue. They’ve gutted their Wynwood Marketplace, expanded the area, added translucent tent covers, brought in fans and added numerous sanitation stations. The project also includes two new areas for retail, Shop the Wall and Shop the Village, giving local artisans a place to sell their wares now that fleas and markets are on hold. The goal is to reemerge ready for this current era of socializing with a weatherproof space, where people can socially distance while enjoying everything SWARM is known for: live music, craft cocktails, artisan markets and food truck concessions. “It’s our biggest project to date and it’s going to be our test pilot to see how people react to going out,” says Zayas.

SWARM will be dipping its proverbial toe in the event-planning pool this Halloween, bringing Miami’s first drive-through pumpkin patch to life at Tamiami Park. The suburban setting was more suitable for a family-friendly event than Wynwood, said Zayas. It’s a slow start to a season that would’ve included a massive Halloween party, Art Basel and a slew of Miami Art Week events, but Zayas and his team remain optimistic. “It’s been a roller coaster but coming up with new ideas and drive-through holiday experiences got us excited. Brainstorming and putting a plan together to bring people back to work and connect with the community gets your blood flowing. It’s been our passion for over 20 years and there’s a lot to look forward to.”

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