Renowned New York street artist George Colon was one of many artists who suffered financial losses after the 2016 Meeting of Styles Art Festival was cancelled in San Francisco. Photo © Daniel Rivera

Nearly a month after the controversial street art event, Meeting of Styles Art Festival 2016, was cancelled in the Mission, one of the participating artists has spoken out on the event, labeling it a “disaster.”

George Colon, a renowned New York street artist known also by his alias “AIM SSB,” was one of the many artists who traveled to San Francisco from across the globe to participate in a 3-day street art festival that was ultimately cancelled after mounting controversy involving the event’s organizer, Lisa Jo Brewer.

The event had been set to take place on Sept. 16-18 in various alleys and streets throughout San Francisco’s Mission District, but was cancelled when Brewer failed to secure the proper street closure permits from the Interdepartmental Staff Committee on Traffic and Transportation (ISCOTT) on Sept. 8, a full week before the event was set to take place.

According to one of the event’s websites, artists from 23 different countries and 200,000 visitors were expected to attend. Apparently, many if not all of artists were unaware that the event had been cancelled by the time they got to San Francisco.

“If [Brewer] had that information, it’s an injustice on her part,” Colon told El Tecolote on Sept. 22. “One: not to relay that information to everybody, and two: everybody’s money should’ve been compensated. That’s not how you deal with in the professional world.”

Colon became involved with the 2016 Meeting of Styles event when Brewer reached out to him late last year, well after the 2015 event. He had never met Brewer, and admitted feeling hesitant about participating in the 2016 event.

“I said, ‘What is your objective?’ and she said, ‘To bring artists from all over the world so that they could paint in San Francisco,’” Colon said.

According to Colon, Brewer verbally agreed to pay for his airfare and his lodging and Colon would also assist Brewer in promoting the event, help bring revenue into the community, and bring artists “so they could paint in a healthy environment.” Colon would also have an opportunity to sell his art.

Mission Station Police Capt. Dan Perea reiterates to Meeting of Styles 2016 organizer Lisa Jo Brewer (brown jacket) that her event has been cancelled at the 24th Street BART Plaza on Sept. 16. Photo: Alexis Terrazas

But two to three months prior to the event, Brewer began informing Colon about the event’s trouble with securing sponsorship, slowly revealing that she couldn’t pay for things.

“Every time I communicated with Lisa, there was a cumulative sense of discomfort and disarray,” Colon said. “Lack of sponsorship, change of staff, and I don’t know why. There was always a conversation like, ‘this person is no longer with us,’ or ‘this person is one is not involved anymore.’ I had that in the back of my mind, ‘Why are we changing so much?’”

Colon spent $300 to ship six pieces of his art to Brewer in late August, and spent over $400 on his flight. Just a week before the event, Brewer told Colon that she didn’t have the funds to pay for his room as once promised.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Colon said. “My art was there. My flight was paid. What do you do at that point?”

Colon arrived in San Francisco on Sept. 13 and booked a room through Sept. 19 on Travelodge, costing him $1,100. In total, Colon’s stay in San Francisco cost him between $1,700 to $2,000.

Upon returning to New York, Brewer once again promised to pay Colon his money. Since returning to New York, Brewer has twice via text message promised to pay Colon, but as of Oct. 12, Colon he hasn’t been paid.

The “red flags” surrounding the event became apparent on Colon’s first day in the city. He saw that the Mission Art415 Gallery at 2884 Mission St., where his art was meant to be displayed, was disorganized, thrown together and without paperwork.

Colon also met various artists and vendors at the gallery on Sept. 16, the morning of the event’s first day, without places to paint and set up. He met four vendors who were demanding that they be reimbursed for the money they paid to be in the event.

“It was very discouraging and very saddening to hear that they wanted their money back and there wasn’t any money to be paid back to them,” Colon said. “My motive was pure in going. I just didn’t know I would face this disaster.”

Colon began his art career in 1970 as a 10-year-old in the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, using graffiti art as a means to cope with the tumultuous dysfunction and alcohol-related violence present in his home.

“It became a way of escaping from reality,” said Colon, who met people in 1973 that showed him how to tag on the trains. “It was a fulfillment. It wasn’t right, ‘cause I was vandalizing and it was unlawful, but it was all I knew how to do.”

After doing a year and a half stint in juvenile detention in 1975, Colon took a drafting course for a company looking to hire him.

“That was my way out. So when they called and said do I want to get paid for drawing, I took that opportunity and got out of New York City at the age of 17.”

For the last five years, Colon has worked as a New York State-certified recovery coach, helping people overcome their addiction to drugs ranging from alcohol to heroin. Colon himself has been sober for 11 years, something that played a factor in participating in the Meeting of Styles event.

“I do feel at this point that i was exploited. I’m in recovery, and I try to believe in people,” Colon said. “I’m saddened over the result of what happened. And the financial burden that many of us experience. I would hope that people with integrity would not act this way again.”