Buffalo artist and curator Dana Saylor is suing Artvoice for unpaid artist fees stemming from the weekly newspaper's 25th anniversary party in 2015.
Saylor's claim, which will be heard in Buffalo City Court on June 8, seeks payment of about $3,800 she says Artvoice founder and editor Jamie Moses withheld from her and 17 other artists after a disappointing turnout at the event brought in less money than expected.
Each of the 17 artists is owed about $150 for their participation in the event, in addition to about $1,000 in unpaid curator fees.
The small claims suit follows nearly two years of heated correspondence between Saylor and Moses. The argument came to a head in late April when Saylor gave Moses an ultimatum demanding payment.
"You have failed to pay me and the artists what you owe us for curating and installing artwork at the Artvoice anniversary party nearly two years ago," Saylor wrote in an April 21 email to Moses that she later shared with The Buffalo News. "You must send the total to me and I will distribute to the artists as we agreed."
Last week, Saylor followed through on her threat to file a case in small claims court. She announced the claim in an Instagram post featuring pictures of court documents and this caption: "Sometimes you do what you've gotta do for fair treatment."
The controversy stems from Artvoice's 25th anniversary party in June 2015, which was largely organized by Saylor and featured DJ performances, bands and art installations.
Moses said that while he agreed to Saylor's terms, the attendance at the party and Artvoice's precarious financial state made meeting those terms impossible. He says the newspaper lost $12,000 on the party and claimed in an email to a Buffalo artist that it forced Artvoice to lay off two employees.
"She had me between a rock and a hard place because of the time pressure so I felt I had to agree to her proposal," Moses wrote in an email to The News. "I delayed on paying the artists, not because I wanted to stiff them but because there was no money. ... I hoped our revenue would improve and so that I could cover them later."
The debt-saddled newspaper, which Moses founded in 1990, joined forces about four months after the anniversary party with Niagara Falls Reporter publisher Frank Parlato. The merger allowed Artvoice to continue publishing, but Moses continued to withhold payment of the delayed artist fees despite Saylor's repeated requests, she said.
In lieu of money, he promised some artists free ads in Artvoice. Moses said that he asked the affected artists "to please come see me at Artvoice to work something out they could live with. Only two or three people came and we worked out an amicable solution."
Tara Sasiadek, a Buffalo artist who worked for five days on her installation for the anniversary party, took Moses up on his offer. In late 2016, he agreed to run an ad Sasiadek submitted for the grand opening of her family's business. But the ad never ran, and Moses later claimed he had not seen the correct version of the ad until after the event had passed.
Sasiadek said she was insulted by the lack of payment and also what she perceived as Moses' downplaying of the artists' concerns.
"To me, $150 is weeks and weeks of groceries. It is a big deal," Sasiadek said. "These were our friends… so it really sucked to see all of them getting shorted too. To them, $150 is a lot of money. There's an emotional level of insult, and there's a lot of frustration."
Saylor said she has compiled about 20 emails between her, Moses and other artists involved in the anniversary party, as well as text messages. There was no signed contract between Moses and Saylor, however.
Saylor also stressed that the fees she charged for her own services and for artist fees were never tied to party attendance.
"I didn't have any kind of requirement in the estimate about if you don't get 'x' number of people to the event, you will not be paid," Saylor said. "He agreed to everything and never once said anything about a contingency."
Moses, for his part, shifted the blame for the controversy onto Saylor, whom he described as "neither a good nor a nice person."
"Dana continued to instigate and present herself as the shining knight fighting for the poor starving artists that big corporation Artvoice was taking advantage," Moses wrote. "All this was while Artvoice was spiraling further and further into a financial hole."
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