Permanent Ink – The Guild of Ethical Tattooists Talk About Long-Term Goals


I recently sat down with founding members of the NM Guild of Ethical Tattooists to pick their brain on the practices of tattooing, the industry in general, and most importantly, how ABQ, NM is ahead of the game in ways that many folks don’t know about. Shane Acuff, Ben Shaw, Jespah Torres and Angelia Santistevan, were nice enough to muse about tattoos with me; what you see here is the product of our conversation, about a new and innovative approach in the world of tattoo art, that many here in the Burque tattoo industry, hope takes the nation by storm.

Angelia Santistevan Co-Owner of Kings Kreation Tattoo opened the conversation by talking about how the consumer industry of tattoo art has grown in recent years, in a good way. Santistevan said, “The tattoo consumer community has changed over the last few decades, people of all walks of life get tattooed.” It’s true: doctors, lawyers, politicians, mothers, fathers, teachers, and business owners (beyond shop owners of course) are all getting in on the ink. Why is this important? Well, it speaks to the fact that book isn’t and can’t always be judged by its cover in our ever-growing world, and that in fact, some of our city’s brightest and most well to do, just might be rocking that sleeve of cartoon characters from their childhood, or a portrait of a passed family member ~ and that that, should be ok. “I would like the non-tattooed community to know that the tattoo artist community is a lot like any other professional field. There are many talented artists who take pride in their work and are ethical, professional people,” Santistevan added.

There lies a divide in this situation/conversation perhaps, for many folks who might be reading this article. You might be wondering how words like ethical and tattooist go together – how shops came together to form a guild, and, just exactly what a guild is… It’s not completely simple, but is simply brilliant, and for the explanation behind the brilliance, I turned to Ben Shaw. Ben Shaw is Co-Owner of Archetype Dermigraphic Tattoo and Gallery. We sat down and began our conversation with how the NM Guild of Ethical Tattooists came to be. “It was formed from a need and desire to protect the Body Modification Industry from overregulation and unprofessional practices,” said Shaw. “The Guild was created to educate and bolster the community’s health and safety, and local economy through educating state inspectors, local schools, and body modification practitioners. We make sure that our peers are well aware of the rules and regulations required of them,” he added. Why is this important you might ask. For anyone who sports body art in Albuquerque, it isn’t only important but should be comforting, when considering the nature of a business that deals in permanent work, on peoples’ bodies, and manages that work through means of blood and skin; basically, “The Guild,” wants to make sure consumers leave shops happy, and with a tattoo and only a tattoo. Jespah Torres, Co-Founder of The Guild and Co-Owner of Archetype Dermigraphic echoed much of what Shaw said, in his answers as to how things came about, saying: “The guild was formed out of a necessity that was seen to bridge the gap between regulators and industry. After sitting for 6 years on the NMBB&C, I noticed very little participation from my peers in the industry, thus making a more difficult task as the only tattooist on the board to make a convincing argument as to what rules are needed and those that are unnecessary. After my term was up, I brought this idea to my business partner, Ben Shaw, and in early 2013, we incorporated the G.E.T. and went public.” So now we have the public, and tattoo shops – but…

It doesn’t just stop at the shop. Shaw commented on the short and long term plans of The Guild saying, “Short-term plans are to create a foundation,  and build a solid body of like-minded individuals who truly wish to bolster body modification practitioners as community leaders here in Albuquerque.

Long-term goals involve continuing education for practitioners and potential new artists through updated apprenticeship and leadership programs.” The ideals and ideas are shared in nature as Torres also added similar sentiments and thoughts about the long-term plans for The Guild. “ [The] Long-term [plan] is to form a nationwide, non-profit initiative, to provide educational and support services to the industry and community as a whole, he said.

These programs wouldn’t only focus on established adults though. In a city begging for job creation, for new industry, and for alternative routes to careers for young people who might not fit the student loan, and four year gamble that university studies can become, Ben Shaw and Jespah Torres, “The Guild’s” Co-founders, and other Guild members are currently doing outreach in local community spaces, with folks of all ages, with an interest and particular focus on youth. Shaw was excited when expressing that their current focus includes “Continued presence at local schools and charter schools to educate against unprofessional practices, and to continue to bolster the economy in Albuquerque New Mexico through the ever booming business of tattoos and body piercings.” Can one say, innovative?

If you’re still reading this, you might be wondering why tattoo artists have all of a sudden taken a liking and an interest in the stake holding of the careers and future of youth in this beautiful city of ours. “The Guild is composed of community members! We live here. Our children go to schools here. We are the community,” said Shaw. Does that answer your question? If not, how about what Torres said to the same question: “I would remind the naysayers that throughout history, tattooists were also medicine men, shaman, warriors, poets, artists, and leaders of the village. We form and create interpersonal relationships that last for years, and sometimes through generations. We have families, and love our children – No different than those unadorned.” Well, who can bite a thumb at that; we are all human, we all have a need and desire to improve the communities around us – let’s work together, what do you say? The Guild, says, “yes!”

According to Torres The Guild has already, “Brought together a core group of professionals to work out a game plan to expedite and alleviate concerns and issues with regulation. We have been endorsed by the state, and have already helped both sides of the fence.” Job well done, friends.

So that are the next steps and what can Albuquerque expect to see from this organization that is forming as a non-profit, with more than thirty-five tattoo artists and thirteen shops represented? Well, The Guild is working with local political leaders to establish a more well rounded efficient and streamlined board system, which has currently passed the House and Senate committees, the Judicial and Financial Committees and is on its way toward possible approval in the 2015 Legislative session. They are also working to create more art-based programs, to help the growing deficiency of art in our public education system.  What do you have to say for local artists giving back to local school systems in a way that the system itself hasn’t seemed to figure out, beyond the constant cuts to what should be fostering our children’s’ creative needs and minds? I would hope we would say, “Kudos!”

The time has come for an innovative faction like that of the NM Guild of Ethical Tattooists to continue to build themselves into a force to be cooperated and collaborated with; we are far past the stereotypes of the tattooed good-for-nothings, and into the 21st century artist image of beautiful brilliance in vibrant colors and loud imagery, that says “I’m here to help, and look beautiful while doing it.” Shane Acuff a guild member himself, perhaps says it best when commenting about The Guild’s role in community by saying “We are no longer content with merely fitting into the community.” He expressed his desire to shape the community. How? I said. “By having a positive impact through nurturing growth, first within ourselves and then within our community.”

Welcome to the community, Guild, we hope you stay a while, our children can surely benefit from your presence.