The artists in the gallery exhibition resorted to handmade signs to get their point across when they realized something was amiss on the evening of April 14. (photo courtesy GinaBella Presser)

On Friday, April 14, dozens of artists were gearing up for the opening of their group exhibition in Lower Manhattan, a show that had been in the works for weeks. But when they arrived at the location, they found their artwork still boxed up on the floor of the locked and empty gallery. The curator who charged each of them a $500 fee to participate was nowhere to be found.

The artists were contacted via social media with an invitation to apply for a spot in an “immersive experience” at the East Village Art Collection (EVAC). Though the exact number of participants remains unclear, around 25 artists were selected to display their work at an onsite exhibition on April 14 at the gallery’s First Avenue space, and an additional cohort opted to participate in a rotating billboard display of their work in Times Square. But as the East Village blog EV Grieve reported, neither of the two elements came to fruition. Head Curator Steven Hirsch and other affiliates of EVAC have yet to provide details regarding the unforeseen cancellation, leaving the artists, some of whom traveled from out of state and even internationally, allegedly out thousands of dollars and convinced that the whole thing was “a scam.”

Hirsch told participants that he had a “medical emergency,” but over two weeks later, artists say they’re still in the dark. Hirsch did not respond to Hyperallergic’s multiple requests for comment for this story.

At face value, EVAC appears to be a vanity gallery that charges each artist $500 to exhibit their work. The events are also ticketed with general admission and VIP tiers, and all artwork sale proceeds are said to be directed to the artists. Florida-based artist GinaBella Presser told Hyperallergic that she received an Instagram message from an unrelated account asking her to reach out to EVAC’s official account on March 8.

“It seemed legit,” Presser said. “I was asked to attend as a guest first, and then I was invited to apply for one of their shows.”

After paying the $25 application fee, she was one of the dozens accepted for EVAC’s Matter and Energy event slated for April 14. As an emerging artist, Presser was excited to exhibit in New York City and had her work insured and sent up independently before booking accommodations and flight tickets for herself and a couple of family members, setting her back over $3,000. Thankfully, Presser was able to recover her work from the gallery with the help of UPS and worked with her bank to be reimbursed for the $500 exhibition fee — she says the gallery automatically charged her the remaining balance of $475 upon her acceptance into the show — but her accommodations and flight tickets were non-refundable.

EVAC’s gallery front with the notice of closure due to “an unforeseen medical emergency” (photo Rhea Nayyar/Hyperallergic)

Michigan-based painter Charlotte Shinabarger was onsite on April 14 in anticipation of the reception before receiving a notification from the ticket vending company, Eventbrite, that the event was canceled. She and the other participating artists who gathered outside the locked gallery were astounded that the organizers hadn’t communicated any of this earlier, fearing that they had gotten scammed. The group acted quickly and papered the windows of the gallery with messages that their work was “stolen” and that EVAC was made up of “scammers,” “thieves,” and “criminals.”

Shinabarger volunteered to pay Hirsch’s place of residence a visit and demand answers. She told Hyperallergic that she was held up by a doorman who initiated a FaceTime call between herself and Hirsch. “I was polite about it and he said that there was a medical emergency and reassured me that everybody will get the refund and their artwork back,” Shinabarger said. “I asked when that would happen and he said he can’t answer that right now, and when I requested somebody meet us at the gallery that I was just at two hours prior, he told me he couldn’t.”

“But when I returned to the gallery 40 minutes later, they had taken down all of our signs and added the notice that the gallery was closed due to a medical emergency,” she added.

Another artist was able to secure Shinabarger’s work for her when the gallery was briefly opened for collections on April 22, but it’ll cost $86 to have it shipped back to Michigan and she still hasn’t been reimbursed for the exhibition costs.

“I’ll fall on my face for anybody in the name of art, I love it,” Shinabarger explained. “That doesn’t scare me or bother me at all. It’s the fact that my kids were rooting for me out there like that and I had to come back and tell them what happened is what hurts me the most.”

EVAC’s gallery location is now up for rent as of May 1. (photo Rhea Nayyar/Hyperallergic)

Julia Comita, an NYC-based creative professional, had shown with EVAC last February and was excited about the Times Square billboard display component that she was accepted for.

“I had no issues dropping off my artwork or picking it back up after the group show,” Comita said in a statement to Hyperallergic. “I was surprised to learn that they had sold out of tickets to the event, and truly the show was packed, leading me to believe that they are doing well with this particular business model.”

Comita said that EVAC, while responsive in the beginning, failed to communicate scheduling information around two weeks before the billboard display was meant to go live, so she consulted Integration Media, the billboard company that EVAC had contracted. Comita learned that EVAC had neither sent over her or any of the artists’ art files to the billboard company nor paid the invoice for display after signing the business contract. Hyperallergic confirmed with an account executive at Integration Media that the invoice went unpaid and that Hirsch and other EVAC employees stopped responding after signing the contract.

“It was annoying and confusing because I had spent a lot of time and attention developing this project with EVAC,” said the account executive, who asked that their name not be used.

Artists hoped to see their work on view as part of the exhibition in April.

At this point, artists from all over claim they have not received any updates, apologies, or reimbursements from the gallery for exhibition costs. Those who were able to recoup the funds managed to do so through their banks, and Hirsch has only answered questions about scheduling artwork collections without providing any other details regarding the incident. EV Grieve reported that EVAC’s gallery location at 215 First Avenue is now up for lease as of May 1, prompting more questions from the artists who say they have been left high and dry.

“To this day, I’m completely bewildered why a company that I had literally just worked with would ghost on a show they contracted anywhere from 60-80 artists to participate in with absolutely zero communication,” Comita lamented.

“Fortunately, a couple dozen artists have found each other throughout this process thanks to the wonders of social media, and made the best of a bad situation,” she continued. My heart absolutely goes out to all the artists who not only paid for this show, but travelled from all over the world to attend this show (with family and friends in tow), and still have no idea why their art wasn’t displayed in Times Square.”

Rhea Nayyar

Rhea Nayyar (she/her) is a New York-based teaching artist who is passionate about elevating minority perspectives within the academic and editorial spheres of the art world. Rhea received her BFA in Visual...

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