Artists from across the globe who arrived in the Bay Area expecting to participate in a three-day street art festival were shocked to learn it had been abruptly cancelled.
The Meeting of Styles Art Festival 2016, which was set to take place at various alleys and streets throughout the Mission District on Sept. 16-18, was unanimously denied the necessary permits by the Interdepartmental Staff Committee on Traffic and Transportation (ISCOTT) due to growing community concern about the event, and questionable actions involving the event’s organizer, Lisa Jo Brewer.
“This year something happened,” Brewer told El Tecolote via telephone on Sept. 16. “I can’t really put my finger on it, but there’s this small organization in town here in the Mission, and they were dead set against it.”
The small organization Brewer referred to is the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District, which fielded a number of complaints from residents and organizations concerning property damage following last year’s Meeting of Styles event.
In May of 2014 the Board of Supervisors and Mayor Ed Lee designated the area between 22nd and 26th streets and Mission and Potrero streets as the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District; the intent was to preserve Latino culture and community on lower 24th Street and the area surrounding it. A nonprofit entity of the same name—which includes residents, merchants and arts organizations—was incorporated shortly after to oversee the district.
“A lot of the issues from last year were never resolved,” said Erick Arguello, president of Calle 24. “It’s the responsibility of the producers of the event to make sure proper outreach is done. Unfortunately, none of that was done.”
Despite having her permit declined, Brewer went to Mission Station on Sept. 15 and informed SFPD Mission Station Captain Dan Perea that she was going to continue with the event.
Perea responded to Brewer in an email later that evening, informing her in no uncertain terms that there would be no event.
“If any vandalism occurs in these locations by individuals who attribute the legality of their actions to your event and/or your authority and/or direction,” Perea wrote, “I will be seeking an arrest warrant for you for conspiracy to commit a crime and vandalism.”
Perea urged Brewer to notify the artists involved that the event had been cancelled, but she didn’t.
“I feel violated,” said artist George Colon, a prominent old school New York graffiti artist who travelled to San Francisco for the event. “It was a disaster.”
Conflict in the making
A key conflict stemming from last year’s event involved the defacement of certain murals in the Mission by some participating artists, who painted over art without permission.
Two of these damaged murals belonged to the nonprofit muralist association, Precita Eyes, whose executive director and co-founder Susan Cervantes sits on the Calle 24 Council.
“I was all excited about it [the 2015 event], because I really do support street art and graffiti art. We’ve been doing that since the 1980s,” Cervantes said, noting that Precita Eyes initiated its Urban Youth Arts Program in 1987, and has hosted its Urban Youth Arts Festival for 20 years, building walls as canvases for street art.
At the 2015 Meeting of Styles artists’ panel at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts (MCCLA), an audience member representing a group of young women muralists said her group’s mural had been painted over.
Cervantes was disappointed to hear one of the panelists, a street artist who goes by “Cuba,” tell the woman that an artist whose work is in an alley with a lot of graffiti art can expect to have their work painted over.
“This is not a thing about styles,” Cervantes said. “It’s about what’s right and respect for each other’s work.”
It was after the panel that Cervantes discovered two of her organization’s
murals had been painted over as well. Brewer blamed the defacement of one of these murals, which is behind the 24th Street McDonalds, on a Precita Eyes muralist.
Cervantes said that wasn’t the case, and that Brewer had agreed to pay for damages.
“She promised to do that,” Cervantes said. “She was not happy about that. But she promised that.”
Brewer also swore she would not produce any similar events in the future. Neither of these promises were kept.
“So here a year later, they still haven’t done what they said they were going to do and pay for those damages,” Cervantes said.
Questionable business dealings
Brewer hired Alistair Monroe, founder of the North Beach Jazz Festival, to help with the business development of Meeting of Styles 2016. Monroe’s job was to find a sponsorship sales person or team and bring them to the table.
She introduced Monroe to Mike Lin, a tech worker and art collector and former Potrero Hill community activist.
Monroe coordinated a bridge loan from Lin in the amount of $25,000 to “commence the Meeting of Styles Art Festival 2016.”
According to the contract signed by Brewer, she would pay $30,000 (the loan plus 20 percent interest) to Lin by Sept. 15, 2016. The contract stipulated that the loan would be repaid by “first money received from and by all sponsorship opportunities” for Meeting of Styles 2016.
According to documents, Lin also invested $45,000 in Brewer’s Mission Art Gallery LLC, becoming a 40 percent owner.
Lin was never paid back for the bridge loan. Brewer claims the reason is that she paid Monroe with loan money in February, and that Monroe disappeared.
“I’ve never heard from him again,” Brewer said. “And that was in February. He did a tremendous amount of damage. I can’t find him. He’s so underground.”
When El Tecolote contacted Monroe, who lives in North Beach, on Sept. 17, he flatly denied Brewer’s claims. He explained that after he began working on the “structural part” of Meeting of Styles he became aware of some questionable actions that Brewer was taking. He was particularly bothered by her negative history with Precita Eyes, and when in March 2016 he learned of the McDonald’s mural, he called for an immediate meeting with Brewer and McDonald’s manager Richard Jones, to discuss how to go forward.
“[Jones] was on the same page that said, ‘How can you move forward when you haven’t healed the past?’ And I told [Brewer] that was a huge concern of mine,” Monroe said.
Monroe also said that Brewer had agreed to pay Cervantes $3,000 for the damaged mural. Brewer sent an email to Cervantes on March 23, 2016, saying that she was “working with due diligence to take care of the back fence of McDonald’s. The situation will be rectified shortly.” (As of press time the situation is still unresolved.)
“The whole financial aspect of it was, ‘Let’s use this $25,000 to heal the past and provide us services and resources so we can work smoothly through this entire process to pitch companies to help support this project,’” Monroe said. “And we were on that path, but then the minute she [Brewer] got the funding, she wrote me a check and in two weeks, there was no money left.”
Lin, upon recently learning of the Precita Eyes youth mural defacement, personally donated $2,500 to Precita Eyes.
Brewer bills her company as a “charitable organization that supports the arts and provides professional art-walks throughout the Mission District.”
According to the Mission Art415 LinkedIn page, the company is listed as a nonprofit.
But according to government records, no nonprofit exists under that name. On the company’s website, donations go to Mission Art Gallery, LLC.
The company’s website also lists MCCLA as the fiscal sponsor. But when El Tecolote asked MCCLA Executive Director Jennie Emire Rodriguez if her organization was indeed the fiscal sponsor, Rodriguez replied, “no.”
“The extent of our collaboration was providing [Brewer] space for the tour and the panel,” Rodriguez said, noting that MCCLA also provided Brewer with space for Meeting of Styles meetings, although MCCLA staff weren’t part of the meetings.
On June 30, Monroe sent an email to his colleagues informing them he had officially severed ties with Brewer. On July 1, Monroe sent Brewer an invoice for the work he had done on the Meeting of Styles 2016 event, totaling $11,300.
Brewer’s Criminal Past
El Tecolote has learned that Brewer has a financial criminal history.
Brewer was apprehended in San Francisco on March 17, 2009 and extradited to North Carolina on April 14, 2009 where she was served an indictment for two counts of financial identity theft, three counts of obtaining property by false pretense and an additional charge of embezzlement. The Sheriff’s Office in Beaufort County North Carolina had received a report on June 2008 alleging that Brewer had taken money from a victim’s bank account, taken out loans in the victim’s name, and tried to take out a life insurance policy on the victim.
Brewer said she served “minimal” jail time.
“I was a chief financial officer for a very small company in North Carolina, and my name was on everything,” she said of her arrest. “My boss and I had a falling out and he set off to prove that there was libel… I said I want my day in court … And my attorney said to me, ‘you’ll never get out of this place. You need to take a plea.”
Lin, Brewer’s business partner, still hasn’t been paid the $30,000 on the return investment from Meeting of Styles. Lin claims Brewer now owes him more than $60,000, stemming from the outstanding loan and another $30,000 he invested into Brewer’s store. Lin informed El Tecolote that he is planning to take legal action against Brewer.