When Caroline Calloway, a 27-year-old Instagram influencer and writer, abruptly cancelled her tour of creativity workshops scheduled across America, all eyes were watching. Her lofty endeavors had gained notoriety on Twitter after writer Kayleigh Donaldson began documenting what she felt were Calloway’s ill-advised attempts to throw together a multi-city tour that promised teachings, lunch, care packages, and personalized letters for every attendee.
“This woman is a blatant scammer who’s now organizing a WORLDWIDE TOUR with this ‘workshop’ she admits she wrote in one day, I think it’s categorical bullshit that nobody is talking about & that we glorify this ‘influencer’ nonsense,” Donaldson tweeted. She later expanded in her own piece on the saga.
It wasn’t long before Calloway found Donaldson’s Twitter thread and ultimately cancelled her remaining dates, saying the criticism was “really valid” and ceded that “preparation was inadequate” and the event did not live up to what people had paid $165 (plus fees) for.
That Instagram influencer I occasionally check in on because she’s The Worst is now charging $165 for a 4 hour “seminar” on how to be yourself. pic.twitter.com/zLvBFn9dPI
— Kayleigh Donaldson (@Ceilidhann) December 20, 2018
In its wake, voyeurs began referring to this whole experience as “Fyre Festival 2,” and accused Calloway of purposefully scamming her fans into paying too much for a workshop that was never going to deliver. However, I don’t see Calloway as a scammer. She’s Tana Mongeau, the vlogger who wanted to throw a convention for her fans and ended up getting in way over her head, resulting in disaster.
Calloway doesn’t have bad intentions, but she’s no stranger to plans gone awry. Let’s start at the beginning.
Who is Caroline Calloway?
She is a 27-year-old writer living in New York City.
Why do people follow her?
Her popularity began when she attended Cambridge University and documented her life on Instagram with long captions and a fairy-tale like tone that has since earned her over 830 thousand followers. It also earned her a $500,000 book deal, that she eventually pulled out of, putting her over $100 thousand in debt. Now, she makes longform Instagram Stories about her life in New York City.
What are these “workshops”?
Despite the failure of her book deal, Calloway still has clout for her ability to gain a social media following (at the time of publication, Calloway currently boasts 830K followers) and successfully maintain her audience. “I tried to give them really tangible skills, like setting aside time and scheduling, and being scrappy about it,” she told BuzzFeed News in a recent interview. “You don’t have to wait to be in a white cube gallery to write a great novel. Like, I make a lot of my Instagram content while I’m on the elliptical.” It’s stuff like this that she promised to teach at these creativity workshops, but at its core, it was just an opportunity for her and her active community of fans (she has many fan accounts dedicated to her writing, relationships, and outfits) to be in the same room.
Why were people mad?
It depends who you ask. (Calloway did not respond to Refinery29’s request for comment.) Those who watched from afar first noted the steep price of $165 per ticket, but Calloway was promising a lot of perks. For instance, the four-hour event included a homemade lunch, individualized care packages and letters, homemade Orchid crowns, and a meet and greet, in addition to Calloway’s teaching.
One by one, these promises fell out the window as Calloway realized just how much she was undertaking. She had, apparently, not allowed herself enough time between the initial conception of the tour and the actual scheduled ticketed events. She was unable to produce the 50-ish care packages and individualized letters in time, and cooking for that many people in her studio apartment proved unbearable — she documented such on her Insta stories. Instead, fans were given mason jars with seeds in them (not to eat, but to grow), a personalized notebook, and a crystal that turned out to be a rock. Future dates would have to settle for carrots and hummus rather than a cooked lunch. The Orchid crowns also disappeared when Calloway realized she instead needed the flower crown fund to pay photographers to take portraits at the event. (She originally wanted to hire unpaid interns before facing — there’s a trend here — backlash.)
update: RE: the Caroline Calloway scam, she bought 1200 mason jars to give her fans “wildflower gardens” turns out this was an empty mason jar and some seeds. she’s traveling around with a huge suitcase of empty mason jars. these people paid $165 for AN EMPTY MASON JAR. pic.twitter.com/FS4IiDvTHG
— Catherine Britt (@catbritt) January 14, 2019
However, attendees of the two workshops Calloway did manage to host, in both New York City and Washington D.C. with about 50 attendees at each, don’t feel scammed because as loyal followers of Calloway, they knew what they were getting into.
“I knew it was unplanned, and honestly never expected her to fulfill most of the bizarre promises she kept adding,” an anonymous woman told BuzzFeed News. “Caroline is a human who has genuine heart, overwhelming empathy, a preoccupation with wealth, and a shallow conception of what it means to be authentic — that anyone can clearly see.
“I just wanted to go hear her workshop for a few hours and hear what she had to say. I justified it as being about the amount I’d spend on a concert for someone I really loved,” another fan wrote on Reddit. “I don’t think anyone didn’t have fun.”
But the drama escalated when, after just two workshops, Calloway offered her followers an alternative: What if all the workshops were hosted in New York City and they just flew to meet her? When she shared the news on Insta stories, the two options to vote on the last minute change were “This is our space!” or “FUCK yes.” There was no option to disagree.
When did she cancel them?
After Donaldson’s thread on the fiasco went viral (even Seth Rogen shared it), Calloway announced via Twitter and Instagram that she was cancelling the tour and refunding all those who bought tickets, including for those who attended the workshops in New York City and Washington D.C. This happened on Monday, January 14.
People immediately noticed that Eventbrite’s policy did not allow refunds within 30 days of the event — a time frame both the New York and D.C. events fell into — which would seemingly complicate the process.
“We don’t believe she was trying to be a fraudster or a bad actor — sometimes things just don’t go as planned,” Amanda Livingood, a spokesperson for Eventbrite, told BuzzFeed.
Has she said anything in response to all this attention?
Other than her initial statement on the tour’s cancellation, Calloway has only spoken to BuzzFeed News about the viral moment.
“I wanted to create an experience that would be my perfect weekend day, with cozy acoustic music and a plant-filled space. If I had known how hard it was, I never would’ve tried,” she explained, later adding, “I said I didn’t plan this because I’m dumb, but that’s not true. I didn’t plan well because I didn’t know. I would be dumb if I did it again like this.”
The tour is back on, baby. In a statement on January 16 on Insta stories , Calloway declared she wouldn’t let those who want her to fail just for entertainment purposes to stop her, and that she’ll let the lessons she’s learned from this tour shape her workshops going forward. No dates or locations have been announced.
Now all we need is Shane Dawson to do another documentary on this saga, and we’ll finally know the truth (no, seriously, we asked Shane Dawson and will update if we hear back).
Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?