An Oakland visual artist who turns vacant buildings into centers for black culture in San Francisco has been accused of owing hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent.
Binta Ayofemi has vehemently denied the allegations despite at least five commercial property owners in the Bay Area accusing her of missed payments over the past three years.
The spaces were intended to be transformed into a bookstore, craft distillery and an arts and events space, according to interviews with property owners and Ayofemi by the SF Chronicle.
But while some of the projects were underway, rental payments stopped while other projects had spaces left unused, according to claims made to the outlet.
‘She has in her mind in this glittering, beautiful, persuasive image of a project, but it’s an empty shell of a dreamscape that she’s not actually doing,’ said Oakland attorney Shona Armstrong.
Oakland visual artist, Binta Ayofemi – who turns vacant buildings into centers for black culture in San Francisco – has been accused of owing hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent
Before the pandemic Armstrong rented an office space to Ayofemi at 1625 Broadway in Oakland but later evicted her. She claims that the artist owes her more than $10,000 in unpaid rent.
Ayofemi told the outlet she doesn’t owe Armstrong money but an Alameda County Superior Court judge ordered her to pay the back rent and about $5,000 more in attorney fees and costs.
‘There is no substance backing up these visions. There is no follow-through,’ said Armstrong.
The SFMOMA’s prestigious SECA award for rising artists last year was awarded to Ayofemi.
She uses rented and renovated vacant commercial spaces to realize her ‘ambitious projects’ through her nonprofit organization, Ground Urban – that has since had its business entity status suspended by the Franchise Tax Board.
Armstrong filed a complaint to state and federal officials detailing Ayofemi’s real estate dealings under the nonprofit.
It’s been alleged that Ground Urban is a being used as a front for renting and defaulting on spaces to raise money in order to ‘revitalize’ spaces while actually using the money for other purposes.
Ayofemi said she had not seen the IRS complaint, but told SF Chronicle the claims were ‘insane’ and ‘bogus.’
She also denied the claim that donor money was being used to pay rent.
The young artist was also evicted from at least three other Oakland buildings including 1460 Seventh St., 1701 Telegraph Ave., and 2124 Broadway, according to SF Chronicle.
Court documents obtained by the outlet said that she owed at least two of them tens of thousands of dollars in back rent and fees. Ayofemi said she plans to resolve all of the disputes.
Shona Armstrong shortly before the pandemic rented an office space to Ayofemi at 1625 Broadway in Oakland later evicting her and claims she’s owed more than $10,000
The young artist was also evicted from at least three other Oakland buildings including 1460 Seventh St (pictured), 1701 Telegraph Ave, and 2124 Broadway
She’s in the middle of fighting an eviction where she opened ‘Dusk Coffee’ a café and wine bar that is still in operation in the city – she’s believed to owe more than $100,000 in back rent
She’s in the middle of fighting an eviction where she opened ‘Dusk Coffee’, a café and wine bar that is still in operation in the city.
Brian Breyre, who leased the space to Ayofemi, said she owes ‘well over $100,000’ in back rent since she stopped paying in January.
‘She was good at selling herself, and it’s so sad because I thought she was going to be good for the community, and I really wanted to believe in it,’ Breyre said.
Dusk Coffee will continue to operate while the artist contests her eviction in court.
Despite the allegations and court documents, Ayofemi denied ‘any record of not paying rent.’
‘I am literally in the midst of doing transformative things,’ said Ayofemi, comparing her work to that of Nelson Mandela.
‘My family knows how dangerous it is for me to do this work, and I was like no, I’m going to do this work. It’s powerful, beautiful work.’
She claims to have made requests for rent extensions that were denied and in some cases believed murals she painted and other ‘renovations’ could be used in place of rent, the outlet reported.
An email from Armstrong after she’d lost patience with Ayofemi read: ‘I get it. You’ve bitten off more than you can chew. Maybe you are panicking.’
‘Please stop the bleeding and sign the termination agreement.’
A San Francisco restaurant called Sam Jordan’s Bar and Grill in the Bayview neighborhood was intended to be turned into a craft distillery and art space, investors who financed her the loan told the outlet.
But its been claimed Ayofemi failed to make payments on the roughly $1 million loan to revitalize the building.
The lenders eventually foreclosed on the property and resold it at a close to $300,000 loss in April.
‘I’ve never seen something like this, when an individual enters into this many leases and for this much money, all at the same time, and breaches this many of them,’ said Hussein Saffouri, an attorney who represented the owners of 1701 Telegraph Ave and 2124 Broadway.
Ayofemi said she relied on investments, sales of her art and grant money to fund her work.
She did not offer the outlet any other details about her investors or grants, only to say that the agreements were ‘delicate and nuanced.’
Bonnie Bridges, principal architect at Studio BBA, said she’d worked with Ayofemi to renovate at least four spaces and hasn’t been paid since September 2021
Ayofemi said she still believes, once her legal woes are quelled that she can reinvigorated black spaces and storefronts in the area
Bonnie Bridges, principal architect at Studio BBA, said she’d worked with Ayofemi to renovate at least four spaces.
She claims that she has not been paid since at least September of 2021 adding that the fees are ‘north of six figures.’
Ayofemi denied the claims of unpaid invoices and said Bridges had ‘double billed’ her and has been paid a ‘ton of money’ for the project.
She said that someone who had not paid rent is ‘very problematic’ and that it has been a ‘misunderstanding and would be resolved.’
‘I have so many people who love my work. The majority of people love my work.’
Ayofemi said she still believes, once her legal woes are quelled that she can reinvigorated black spaces and storefronts in the area.