Editor’s note: As of 7/19/2023 WePlusYou’s website has been taken down.
Imagine being promised the art show of the year, a chance to showcase your hard work. The event is billed as “the most anticipated art festival of the year” offering “an immersive experience” that includes “mesmerizing array of paintings, sculptures, installations, and much more.” You spend weeks preparing, creating art, only to show up to an empty indoor soccer field with no real event staff or public attendance whatsoever.
Athletic workouts continue nearby as you set up your booth, feeling a bit confused as to how foot traffic will find you. There are no food vendors, just an unstaffed concession booth and other confused artists. No immersion to speak of, outside of a standard art fair. The person that vendors were told was representing the event turns out to have been hired online the night before.
Multiple artists from the Art Fusion Denver event on June 10th feel they were given false promises amounting to a scam by WePlusYou, the organizer for the show. Local artist Melody Gambino opened up, “They introduced themselves from Miami, with the dazzle of a festival and an ongoing art show called Artbox in Miami, and they were going to do it in Denver.”
The Denver artists claim that there was no promotion outside of Instagram posts and one Eventbrite page that appeared the day before, despite being promised hundreds of attendees. YS contacted over a dozen artists involved in the Denver and Miami shows, staff at the venue the Denver event was held, staff of the city of Denver, as well as WePlusYou to assess these claims.
Despite promises of multiple hundreds of attendees, several food vendors, live music, and a vibrant scene, attendance in Denver was virtually non existent outside of artist’s family members and friends.
LNZ, an artist in attendance stated, “There was no one there, except all the artists who showed up…. There was no check in.”
The venue itself sparked immediate questions upon arrival. Athletic fields with active workouts taking place are not the typical setting for an art show.
“It was in an indoor soccer field. There was no signage outside the venue. We had no idea what was going on. The man, Jason, He was really helpful and friendly, but it seemed like he didn’t know what was going on,” Sam Lyles, another local artist, shared with YS.
Fees for the event were high compared to other free-to-the-public art shows according to artist we spoke with. Many artists felt it was worth the risk to pay the fees for the type of event that was promised, which included immersive exhibits, live music, and food trucks for the one day event.
“This is a financial commitment, but we are going to get our art in front of a lot of eyeballs,“ LNZ shared.
In spite of some initial hesitations, over 30 artists paid for a booth and showed up on June 10th. Art scams abound online, with opportunists looking to separate artists from their money in whatever way possible. Sometimes scammers offer payment via fake check. However, this one appeared as a legitimate show with a track record of success.
Photos on social media show dozens of emerging artists smiling in front of their booths, holding their art, and acting as a promo material for past events and future collaborations. The Instagram account, ArtFusionDenver, has two thousand followers. The recent photos from an event in Wynwood, Miami are what attracted many of the Denver artists. Wynwood is known as a major arts hub in one of the top art cities in the United States — Miami. Hosting a successful event here that featured many local, smaller market artists was seen as a huge draw.
“They appeared to have pulled a really big festival in Wynwood, in Miami,” Lyles shared.
Painting an illusion
The Miami event is key. Like any good illusion, things were not as they seemed. Almost all contact with the event organizers in both Miami and Denver was done via Instagram chat. Some artists also obtained email addresses, with the names Joseph Kedr, Alexis, and Gina Davis used. None of the names have been able to be verified by YS.
Gambino had some questions before the event. That’s when cracks in the picture started to widen. “We definitely probably ignored some red flags, which is unfortunate. But it wasn’t just one of us, you know, it was all of us.”
She expanded on the questions she asked the organizers, “I asked a couple of questions. One of my friends has a gluten allergy. Is there going to be a possibility for me to have room behind my table where I have a little bit more real estate?”
YS was provided with multiple screenshots of communication and promises by WePlusYou. Further increasing suspicions, the event itself was delayed just hours before it was supposed to begin, as seen in the screenshots provided. Artists arriving found no sign in sheet, no WePlusYou or ArtFusionDenver staff, and no one directing artists where to set up.
Food options were limited to vending machine type snacks like chips and waters. According to our sources, live music had some difficulty as well, with the venue not approving the DJs use of the house sound system as well as a noise complaint. Finally, the one person representing ArtFusionDenver, turned out to have just been hired the day before. They did not consent to being the main point of contact for the entire event This person’s phone number was at times given out to artists as the day-of contact person for the show.
Food trucks were allowed for the event but there were none on the day of the art show per conversation with the venue. No event permit was filed with the city of Denver for the event despite it being required according to a YS conversation with the Denver Zoning Department.
Artists Melody Gambino, Sam Lyles, Leonel Vasquez and others helped spearhead a movement to take action. Feeling frustrated with the lack of communication, lack of promotion, and lack of responsibility, these artists decided to do something. When reaching out to WePlusYou and ArtFusionDenver netted only blank responses, they organized a fundraiser for those affected and collected screenshots of communication with the event organizer.
Scam, or just a failed event?
YS reached out to several artists from the WePlusYou Miami event to see what their experiences were like. Most artists we spoke to wished to remain anonymous and claimed it was closer to a failed event than an outright scam. This may partially be due to the event’s location, at the Dirty Rabbit, which did in fact generate some foot traffic.
WePlusYou provided YS with an email statement in which they refute the allegations. They state in part that “We acknowledge that the turnout for the event was lower than anticipated. As a gesture of goodwill, we offered all participating artists an alternative date free of charge, along with the exemption of any vending fees. Our aim has always been to support artists and create opportunities for them to sell their artwork.”
Multiple artists who reached out to the event organizer report being blocked on Instagram when refunds were discussed. On some occasions refunds or spots in upcoming shows were offered, but then all communication was ceased and blocked. No refunds from ArtFusionDenver have materialized per people YS spoke with.
As of publishing, ArtFusionDenver is still using images of the artists as promotional material for their social media campaigns. The very same reason some Denver area artists felt they were able to trust ArtFusionDenver — images of local artists at shows — is still being used to lure in other unsuspecting people. Lyles stated that “ I obviously did not give them permission,” despite her image being used.
There is a line between a scam and a failed event. Other art shows do not block artists online or stop responding to texts or emails asking for answers. Failed events happen. Following an unsuccessful art show, a legitimate company would offer and follow up on apologies, refunds as necessary, or maintain communication at a bare minimum.
Any artists wishing to avoid losing money in these types of scams may want to look into insurance offered by credit card companies. At least one artist YS spoke with was able to reverse the charge after speaking with her customer service representative. VenMo and debit card users have less options to recover money in the event of a scam.
Specific promises made about the ArtFusion event simply never materialized. These include
- Immersive event with sculptures and installations
- DJ secured for the event when he was actually hired night before
- 200 – 500 people in attendance when almost no one showed up
- Advertising when almost nothing was done outside Instagram
- Promised refund information but blocked participating artists
- Organizers claimed the event was non-profit – but no evidence of donations are present
Additional evidence points to a general lack of planning and organization on ArtFusionDenver’s part.
- No one from ArtFusionDenver or WePlusYou attended the event
- Last minute delay shifting the start time
- No staff familiar with the event
- No check in for vendors
- No food trucks or vendors just vending machine snacks
Tips for avoiding scams, how to help
Unfortunately local arts communities across the nation are dealing with scams of all sorts, many originating from messages on Instagram promising up-and-comers a chance to showcase their work. Social media is a main way to gain clients, demonstrate success, and make connections in today’s world. It is more important than ever to be diligent and spot red flags and maintain a healthy skepticism.
- Talk to artists that were in previous events
- Get full contact info and name
- Pay with a credit card that has fraud insurance
- Check with City that event has a permit
- Search the venue address and look at Street View
- Check out this Instagram Post with great tips
As of now, there is buzz of an event being held again in Denver in August. The same group is also hosting a Las Vegas event in the coming months according to screenshots of communication between artists and WePlusYou. This was confirmed via Instagram messages between an anonymous Colorado artists and the ArtFusionDenver instagram account. This also shows the ArtFusion Instagram account is still active and recruiting for future events, but not engaging with artists dissatisfied with previous events.
You can donate to the fundraiser here if you wish to help the artist that have lost out on money
If you have been affected by this or an event of a similar nature please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org