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PICTURE THIS
Body image
BY LOREN KING

Body art in Boston, something of a battleground ever since the city began using its zoning laws to regulate and limit the legal practice, will take a giant step forward this weekend when the Boston Center for the Arts hosts the first body-art convention in the city proper, June 21, 22, and 23. Billed as a celebration of the "re-legalization" of tattooing in Massachusetts, the Boston Tattoo Convention will feature 100 body artists from across New England, as well as seminars, art displays, and vendors such as medical suppliers.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority, the cityís planning agency, had modified city zoning laws to allow for body-art shops, which became legal in Massachusetts on February 1, 2001, after a 38-year prohibition (see "Beating the Tattoo," News and Features, August 16, 2001). The new regulations, adopted in April 2001, do not permit tattoo establishments in commercial zones, requiring applicants in those areas to apply for special permits. Although body-art establishments are thriving in towns in Western and Southeastern Massachusetts, as well as on the North and South Shores, Boston has limited its establishments to fewer than six, most of which will be represented at the convention.

Natan Lin, tattooist and owner of Darkwave Demographics, in Roxburyís Dudley Square, is producing the event. Darkwave is one of just a handful of body-art establishments to receive a special permit from the cityís zoning board. To get the permit, though, the proprietor had to jump through bureaucratic hoops over the past year. Lin says he got another taste of the cityís ambivalence regarding body art when he organized the convention over the past several months.

"There was a lot of resistance from the police department, which was worried about biker gangs" showing up at the convention, he says. The departmentís fears were exacerbated, he adds, by a recent Hellís Angels rally on Long Island where some bikers exchanged gunfire. "We explained that the people coming to our show were not bikers or Hellís Angels," says Lin. "Thatís not most people who get tattoos." The convention finally got the go-ahead after Lin was granted an entertainment license by the city licensing board (the only "entertainment" will be the creation of tattoos). The police department also stipulated that the producers have an extra-large police detail on hand for the three-day event, to the tune of $13,000, says Lin. Still, heís less concerned with making a profit for this first year than with showing the "powers that be" that Boston is ready for a body-art convention.

The Health Department, which under state law is the sole regulator of body-art and piercing establishments, signed off on the convention once it was satisfied that all health and safety standards had been met. Lin estimates that the convention, which runs from noon to midnight on Friday and Saturday and until 8 p.m. on Sunday, could draw anywhere from 2000 to 5000 visitors, based on Web-site hits and anecdotal evidence of interest.

Tickets $15 per day or $35 for the convention. Call (617) 445-9090 or visit www.bostontattooconvention.com.

Issue Date: June 20 - 27, 2002
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