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With Backroom Sessions MIA, Tired Corporate Kids Turn Art Into Entrepreneurship

The Backroom Sessions MIA team.
The Backroom Sessions MIA team. Courtesy of Ariana Teran, Head of Backroom Visuals
Hurricane Irma tried its best to rain out the city, but the team at Backroom Sessions MIA isn’t having it. They rush from their corporate 9-to-5's and dodge debris piles in the dark to work on Backroom Sessions, Vol. 6, their latest performance. It’s this kind of passion and dedication that has transformed a talent and performance showcase into a thriving business operation. Their mantra is “Putting the bottom of the map on the map.”

Backroom is a platform presenting local visual and performing talent. The group caters to multiple genres and media focused on promoting artists in Miami’s neighborhoods while expanding the landscape for locals to enjoy, network, collaborate, and participate in the arts. Backroom was born because the Miami millennials behind the project were tired of being corporate desk monkeys. Rudy Flores and Angelina Rivero founded it as a way to rekindle their love for the arts.

Last December, the idea to put on a local talent showcase came to Flores after he visited Rivero's parents’ restaurant, the Fish House Miami. The vibe and live music there set the gears in motion, and they turned a small local talent show into a profitable LLC working to promote the most innovative makers and shakers in the 305.

Backroom Sessions, Vol. 1, was coordinated by the duo in less than 25 days and debuted with 15 performers and 70 attendees last December 27 at the Fish House. Since then, the group has put on five other sessions, each presenting anywhere from 30 to 60 artists. Attendance has increased to 350. They work with multiple vendors and sponsors as well as organize pop-up shows to promote the showcase and help local venues and businesses coordinate live talent and events. In addition, Backroom is committed to community outreach and even organizes charity events called #BackroomBuilding.

The team’s corporate background and creative ingenuity have helped the members structure their group into fully functional, cooperative departments: operations, talent management, social media, and visuals. They grew organically from two to 25 because their friends and the local creative community recognized this was something lacking in the scene. Managers Flores, Rivero, and Susy Mars meet twice a week, and team meetings with the rest of the staff happen every Tuesday night after regular business hours. “This business is run mostly through group chats," Rivero says. "Most of the work being done by staff is donated time to a dream they want to make happen.”

Though the organization is less than a year old, it has generated more than $10,000 in revenue; everything they earn goes into putting on the show. After making the first three volumes free, the team began charging a small ticket fee to continue building Backroom physically and financially. They have now introduced online sales, reservations, and drink tickets to facilitate funding for operations, including multiple stages for different genres and mediums and the Written Real Gallery, which presents visual artists, writers, and poets organized by Written Real at each Session.

“We don’t identify as a business," Flores says. "We are a culture. We invite our talent to meet the staff a month out from our events at our #BackroomMixer, where food and drinks are provided while data is collected with our ‘Meet the Artists’ forms.”

They tailor their showcases to specific themes. Artists must submit their information to Backroom via an electronic filing system. There's a 136-person waiting list the team is trying to accommodate for upcoming shows.

“Miami is one of these really subcultural weird places, so it makes for some interesting art and art we understand as Americans and Hispanics," Rivero says. "We’re trying to bring light to the fact that Miami is more than that. It’s arroz con frijoles.”

The members are unifying areas of Miami-Dade such as Kendall, Westchester, South Beach, and Pinecrest and have purposely stayed out of Wynwood because they think that neighborhood has the art support it already needs from a different target audience that has more opportunities than other locals. Vol. 6 kicks off a string of citywide events such as weekly pop-up live music, comedy shows, and county-partnered community efforts set through the end of the year.

Backroom Sessions, Vol 6. 5 p.m. Sunday, October 1, at the Fish House, 10000 SW 56th St., Miami; 305-595-8453; Tickets cost $5 via Admission is free for FPL employees and Miami-Dade police and fire rescue.
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Briana Saati