As far as Instagram influencers go, Caroline Calloway is no stranger to things melting down. She made a name for herself back in 2015 with an Instagram account devoted to writing her memoir, in real time, via captions. The account chronicled her romance at Cambridge with a guy named Oscar and ultimately landed her a book deal with an advance worth over $100,000. She made an even bigger name for herself when word got out the book wasn’t happening and she needed to repay said $100,000 — money which Calloway had already spent. Now, Calloway’s Instagram account is devoted solely to using the Stories feature. (Her most recent post is from 2017. The second most recent is from 2016.) That’s where Calloway excitedly announced in December that she was launching a “tour,” leading seminars to teach people how to be their best selves. Reader it, uh, did not end well.
For $165 ($176.68 when you count the online processing fees), Calloway promised “coffee or tea with your choice of oat milk or oat milk,” “a personalized journal to take notes in during class and to take home as a souvenir,” as well as a vegan lunch, “new friends,” and “fresh orchid crowns.” Calloway also said each participant would receive a care package customized just for them. “Am I going to stalk all of my students beforehand on Instagram so I can find out what they like and fill their care package with things they love? Also maybe. I won’t *not* not stalk them. All I can say for sure is: The care packages will be made with love.”
What were participants supposed to do during their four hours at the seminar? Great question. So glad you asked. Calloway said she was going to teach attendees how to cultivate creativity, tackle “the emotional and spiritual dimensions of making art,” and how to build an Instagram brand. (With over 800,000 followers, she’s actually qualified to do that last one.) The first hour of the event was scheduled as a meet and greet … sans Calloway. “I will not be here for this. I don’t want to steal focus. I want you guys to get to know each other and, most importantly: get caffeinated together,” she wrote in the event’s description. “Wouldn’t it be so great if you left this workshop with a new friend and small caffeine buzz?”
The event hit some snags. Journalist Kayleigh Donaldson documented the drama, via Twitter, in an excellent and thorough thread she started in December 2018, when Calloway began planning the events. “Calloway started selling tickets for her nationwide tour, with locations in Boston, Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Austin, Charlotte and DC, before she had booked venues,” Donaldson wrote in a piece for Pajiba. (The whole thing is reminiscent of TanaCon, an ill-fated VidCon alternative hosted by YouTuber Tana Mongeau which went up in flames and left many people with dangerous sunburns and out hundreds of dollars.)
She also promised dates for a European tour would be dropping soon. On Instagram Stories, saved for posterity on Twitter by Donaldson, Calloway put out a call for photographers to work the events for free. She later posted an update saying she would pay them, adding she felt “overwhelmed” by costs because “event space/flights/hotels/food/stuff/FRESH ORCHIDS are so expensive.” (At some point in this saga, Calloway told her fans that making salads was exhausting her and would they consider just brown bagging it at upcoming seminars to save her the hassle — despite the inclusion of a vegan lunch in the price tag.)
Among the promised swag, Calloway said seminar attendees would go home with mason jar gardens. She ordered 1,200 jars and had them delivered to her apartment in New York City. Then she promptly began complaining that she had no room to store 1,200 jars. Calloway hosted the first of her seminars in Brooklyn over the weekend at a loft space. She loved it so much that she then asked her fans who bought tickets in Boston and Philadelphia if they would be okay with traveling to New York for their seminars. She asked this question in an Instagram poll where both answer options were some version of “yes.” “No” wasn’t a choice.
“My staff told me I should just listen to the polls and move all the dates to New York,” she later wrote on Instagram. The rigged polls, that is. She announced she was canceling events she’d booked in four cities and refunding anybody who’d bought tickets there. (Under Eventbrite’s Terms of Service, refunds can only be issued through the company if the event is still more than a month away. Meaning, since the seminars were happening sooner than 30 days, if Calloway is serious about those refunds she’ll have to deal with it personally.)
Against the odds, and inclement weather, Calloway’s event in D.C. also went off over the weekend. “There wasn’t an orchid crown! Just a single flower to put in our hair that we didn’t keep. Mason jar had a little pack of wildflower seeds,” wrote an attendee in an AMA on Reddit, saying Calloway told the participants something like “orchids are really expensive, so instead of making a crown, that you honestly probably won’t wear outside of here, we’re just going to put flowers in our hair.” The mason jar gardens were just jars containing some seeds. “‘No notes, no flower crowns, only about 1.5 hours (max) of actual ‘teaching’ if you can even call it that. Icing on the cake? Her ‘staff’ are 20 year old college girls w no event planning/logistics experience that are just huge fans of her,” another attendee DM’d Donaldson. The salad, in Calloway’s defense, was apparently “damn good.” “Kale, arugula maybe, some other lettuce combo (lol), sautéed eggplant, hummus, and this homemade tangy vegan caesar dressing,” the same attendee wrote in their AMA.
After D.C., Calloway — likely a result of seeing Donaldson’s now-viral Twitter thread — announced she was canceling the rest of the seminar dates and offering refunds. She also said she’ll be refunding anyone who attended the event in D.C. or New York. And just like that, the Creativity Workshop by Caroline Calloway ascended into failed influencer-event heaven. I imagine the ghost of Fyre Festival met it at the gates.
You can read the entire thread from Kayleigh Donaldson here.