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Cultural Capital

‘They Totally Fucked Me’: Inside the Rise and Fall of ArtsDistrict Brooklyn

Weddings and parties were thrown into disarray, vendors say they went unpaid. Was it all part of a “clandestine scheme to siphon money”?

(Hell Gate)

When Andrew Kim and his fiancee Ploymai Siribansop began researching where to hold their upcoming wedding, the couple knew they needed a very specific kind of venue. In place of traditional wedding decorations, Kim and Siribansop wanted to fill their ceremony with dazzling computer-generated images. Finding a space that could accommodate their high-tech vision proved challenging, until the couple discovered the tech-forward venue ArtsDistrict Brooklyn. Situated in the former House of Vans, the "immersive and experiential arts venue" created by the Toronto-based event producers David Galpern and Charles Roy offered 20,000 square feet of flexible space and, they were told, a production team familiar with the kind of projection art Kim and Siribansop wanted to use. Kim and Siribansop put down a $15,000 deposit, coordinated a time to come test their video projections, and even put down an additional $10,000 deposit for a pre-wedding party to be held at the space. 

The only problem? When they showed up in September 2023 at an agreed-upon time to test their projections, no one was there and the doors were locked. Soon after, they received a phone call from the ArtsDistrict general manager, Jacob Feldman, with some bad news. "We kind of found out that either their staff was laid off, they left, or they were fired," said Kim. "I'm not honestly sure which one of those answers is true, but the staff did not exist anymore." They were then assured that the event could continue, as the venue had brought on a "globally recognized production house," the underground nightlife promoter TekSupport, to manage operations.

"We were like, this is unacceptable," said Kim. "We'd done all this planning with this specific staff."

ArtsDistrict then offered them a refund, and encouraged them to keep the venue in consideration for their special day. "We told him, 'Okay, let's see the refund,'" said Siribansop. "Then we will talk about the wedding. And then that's when they start to ghost us."

They still haven't received the refund they were promised. 

Like Kim and Siribansop, Devon Baran, a musician who performs under the name Von, was initially enthusiastic about ArtsDistrict. Baran paid a $10,000 deposit to host her regular queer boxing live show, Bloody Mary, at the venue last September. "We were really excited when we heard about ArtsDistrict because we've never had a venue that was able to execute that the way that we need it," she said. But two days before the show, she found out that ArtsDistrict no longer had functional generators, leaving her scrambling to find a new venue, rework her show, and shoulder the financial burden of her deposit. 

"They totally pretended to be like, 'We are artists, too! We understand!'" Baran said. "Then they totally fucked me."

Kim, Siribansop, and Baran are not alone—more than a dozen former vendors and clients are now claiming that ArtsDistrict collectively owes them more than $800,000. In December 2023, they launched an online campaign under the banner "ARTSDISTRICT SCAM" alleging that ArtsDistrict and its founders, as their website states, "masterminded a clandestine scheme to siphon money from unsuspecting vendors."

It was Tyler Mount, the founder of a marketing agency called Henry Street Creative that had provided services to ArtsDistrict, who, frustrated, decided to organize the ADBKScam campaign. In April 2023, Mount sued Immersive Management and Services LLC, the company behind ArtsDistrict, over nonpayment, and last fall, a New York State Supreme Court judge, in a default judgment, ruled that the company owed more than $180,000 in unpaid fees, including attorney's fees, to Henry Street Creative. But Mount has yet to be paid, despite winning his legal battle. 

"They've been saying that they're going to 'bring us to the table' for a year plus," Mount said.

And then ArtsDistrict abruptly shuttered. "Despite heavy investments and attempts to keep it going, the company ceased operations last September," a spokesperson told Hell Gate. Today, the building sits empty, and dead plants and beer cans litter its spacious backyard. 

(Screenshot via

Located at 25 Franklin Street in Greenpoint, ArtsDistrict had, after opening in the summer of 2022, hosted immersive AI installations, launches with NBA and WNBA stars, and a slate of electronic music events with TekSupport. 

Galpern and Roy launched ArtsDistrict in July 2022 after years spent producing live theatrical events in Toronto and throughout Canada. In 2001, they co-founded the Classical Theatre Project, a live entertainment company that produced national tours of musicals like "Grease" and imagined classic plays like "Romeo and Juliet" for youth audiences. Some of Galpern and Roy's productions have included high-profile talent. In 2018, the duo helped produce a production of "Grease" in Toronto that included a cameo from Michelle Williams of Destiny's Child. Ellen Flowers, the marketing manager of the Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre Centre who worked with Galpern and Roy on "Grease," was surprised to see the duo implicated in a dispute; she described Galpern and Roy as "pleasant and polite," noting that the theater had had no issues with contractual payments. But at least one Canadian contractor cautioned others before providing services to Galpern and Roy, claiming in a Reddit post that he had been stiffed by the duo. "Please consider this before engaging in any business transactions with them," he wrote of the founders of ArtsDistrict. 

While Galpern and Roy are familiar names in the Toronto performing arts world, Flowers also described them as "small potatoes." In New York, Galpern also has helped bring a handful of parody musicals to Off-Broadway, including "Katdashians! Break the Musical!," which was described by the New York Times as "pretty stupid" but "not without artfulness." 

ArtsDistrict was originally conceived as the home of panoramic AI-generated art experiences, which had become popular during the pandemic. At its opening in 2022, ArtsDistrict sold tickets to "Limitless AI," a 45-minute data-driven "psychedelic cinema" attraction created by Turkish artists Ferdi and Eylul Alici, and partnered with UK-based entertainment company Darkfield to present "FLIGHT" and "SEANCE," two immersive audio experiences that appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. 

According to a publicist who worked with ArtsDistrict, the AI-powered experiences that ArtsDistrict's founders may have hoped would turn the venue into an immersive cash cow didn't elicit overwhelming interest. Renting out the space to brands and programmers provided a means of supplementing ticket sales from the AI shows, which ran Thursdays through Sundays. Six months after opening, Thrillist reported that ArtsDistrict was embarking on an exclusive partnership with nightlife promoter TekSupport to bring 20 shows to the venue in 2023, including a fashion week party featuring Diplo. (TekSupport declined to comment for this story.)

Behind the scenes, however, things were far less glamorous.

"The space has so much potential and the location is wonderful, but their gross negligence and incompetence really just was astonishing," said a former employee, referring to ArtsDistrict's owners.

When employees tried to install equipment that ArtsDistrict had purchased to make the venue more flexible, they found out that the equipment hadn't actually been paid for. That former employee claims that Galpern and Roy looked the other way on structural issues with the venue.

"I said, 'Hey, the roof leaks. The AC doesn't work. The projectors are breaking,'" said the former employee. "And they said, 'Great, bye!' and fucked right off. They were very, very uninvolved."

There were other issues as well. "The payroll would be inconsistent, consistently not fulfilled in time, and people have rent to pay," the former employee recalled, an account which was echoed by another former staffer. A spokesperson for Immersive Management and Services LLC told Hell Gate, "All payroll was paid," but did not comment on the other allegations.

On July 26, 2023, just a day shy of the one-year anniversary of opening night, ArtsDistrict's staff staged a one-day walkout in protest.

"Enough was enough," the former employee said. 

Despite the mounting challenges, ArtsDistrict forged on with scheduled programming. The very same weekend the majority of the staff engaged in a walkout, the venue hosted a TekSupport-produced party; three more occurred in late summer. But cracks began appearing. On September 6, the venue hosted a launch party for the basketball video game NBA 2K; to power the event, NBA 2K's production team had to bring in their own generators, as ArtsDistrict's own generators had been seized that very day by Sunbelt Rentals, who have since filed a lawsuit claiming they are owed $274,825 in rental fees. Immersive Management and Services LLC did not respond to questions about the generator seizure or the lawsuit by Sunbelt Rentals.

This was the same week Baran had been scheduled to host her event. ArtsDistrict's Feldman did not inform Baran about the seized generators or the departed staff, Baran said—instead, Baran said she received an internal tipoff from an ArtsDistrict staffer who had matched with one of the dancers in her show on Tinder. 

Fed up, Baran moved her show to another venue, and took to Instagram to share her experience. "Never in my years of nightlife have I experienced anything so vicious," she said in the video she posted. After she posted the video, she says she finally heard from Feldman, who offered to wire over the deposit money immediately if Baran agreed to take her video down.

"I obviously said no," said Baran. "I then emailed them explaining, I will have no other choice but to use my community leverage here. I'm a one-woman production company, I don't have thousands of dollars for lawyers, I will have no choice but to continue to tell the story publicly, which clearly you don't want me to do. So we need to come to a decision here."

On September 29, ArtsDistrict treasurer Ernie Rubenstein emailed Baran to apologize for the situation and offered a "complimentary event at the new ADBK."

"I would like my deposit returned to me," Baran responded. "I don't feel comfortable hosting another event at ArtsDistrict at this time. The amount of total debt that has resulted does not put us in a position to host another event."

One week later, Rubenstein followed up, writing that ArtsDistrict's accounting team was "working on issuing the refunded deposit," and would "reach out to advise on transfer details and timing."

More than five months have now passed, and Baran has still not received any further communication from Rubenstein or ArtsDistrict. 

Roy and Galpern did not respond to requests for comment. In a statement, a spokesperson from Immersive Management and Services LLC told Hell Gate, "The vision at the heart of ArtsDistrict Brooklyn has always been to give Brooklyn a cutting-edge venue for immersive event designers to delight audiences, however, this has proved challenging post-pandemic. We reject numerous unfounded allegations and inaccuracies made online. Claimants have either been paid, settled or will soon be brought to the table for further discussions." The spokesperson declined to comment further when asked to clarify which specific allegations and inaccuracies they rejected. 

In the grand scheme of recent New York nightlife stories, where a spate of murders and an oversold Electric Zoo prompted censure from Mayor Adams, the scale of the drama unfolding at ArtsDistrict might seem modest. But the consequences can be devastating for the parties involved.

"It was like my entire savings," said Baran. 

Baran estimates her total losses around $26,000, a number that falls awkwardly in between the $10,000 pursuable in New York small claims court, and a larger sum worth paying expensive legal fees to litigate. 

For people like Baran, Kim, and Siribansop who wished to rent the space, legal action is the only way to chase down what they say they are owed. But litigation is expensive; for now, Kim and Siribansop are watching how the other parties involved are navigating the issue before they pursue legal action. 

At least one former contractor involved with ArtsDistrict has filed a complaint through the "Freelance Isn't Free Act," legislation modeled on an existing New York City law that establishes a right to timely and full payment for freelancers which Governor Kathy Hochul signed into state law in November. Hochul's legislation also empowers New York's attorney general to bring actions such as damages and civil penalties on organizations that violate the legislation. Freelancers can also file a complaint with the attorney general directly. 

"The legislation was the first of its kind in the nation and possibly the world," said Rafael Espinal, the executive director of the Freelancers Union. Espinal helped the act become law during his tenure as the chair of the New York City Council's Committee on Consumer Affairs. 

"The number one issue freelancers were facing was the issue of nonpayment," Espinal said. "Over 76 percent of independent workers/freelancers experience nonpayment at least once a year. They lose an average of about $6,000 a year because of it."

While Espinal views the legislation as "highly effective," he acknowledges that unresponsive businesses can throw a wrench in the collections process: Five-year data from New York City’s rollout of the act shows that nearly half of those who pursued recourse under the act still have yet to receive payment. Among them is the former ArtsDistrict contractor, who filed her complaint in November 2022 but has yet to hear back. 

Since ArtsDistrict's closure, lawyers for Immersive Management have reached out to Mount via email to create "a path forward," he said. But they provided no clear explanation of how they plan to repay him and others seeking redress—and Kim, Siribansop, and Baran received no comparable email.  

While the ongoing saga has had few upsides, Baran says that the support of others in the nightlife community—both members of the ADBKScam campaign and her own team—have helped soften the blow. "The corny silver lining for me is [that there's] something so beautiful about community," she said. 

Meanwhile, Roy and Galpern appear to be pivoting operations to a project called ArtsDistrict Studios, described by Deadline as the "leading firm in the creation of in-person 360-degree story-driven experiences." Up next? An immersive adaptation of Robert Jordan's "The Wheel of Time" book series. In announcing the project in November of last year, Galpern told Deadline: "We believe that immersive entertainment is not just the future, but the here and now, and we are committed to creating experiences that are truly unforgettable."

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