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Professional Organizations:
Are they worth it?

"When you stir up shit, everyone gets splattered."
anon tattoo artist

"That's why I wash so much.
If you keep your head in the sand, something is going to come along and take advantage ov your butt in the air.
I'm not shit-disturbing, I'm covering my ass."
Denise Robinson, Ambient Inc.

Henna Hand What's the big deal?
People around thee world have been getting tattooed, pierced, branded and scarred for ages. Now allova sudden there are organizations and legislations telling us what to do. Get's your goat, doesn't it? But did you ever stop to think about thee consequences ov your actions?
If you are a conscientious professional, you pride yourself on your artistry and safety. Assuming you manage to find thee time to research and implement thee latest developments, chances are you either think it's too much a bother to worry about what thee guys down thee street are doing, or you don't want to bring them up to speed lest they offer some competition. Other artists just don't have thee time or inclination to care. They keep using old products and techniques that are less than adequate and safe. Next thing you know, some senator or MP's underage kid comes in and gets pierced or tattooed, mom or pop finds out and runs screaming to thee legislature to ban thee offending art. Or someone catches hepatitis B from a procedure and sues their artist's ass off. Whether you performed thee service yourself or turned them down and they crossed thee street to your less-ethical competition, thee results are thee same. Everyone gets screwed. If guidelines are in place and you adhere to them, you have a defense on your side to prove that it wasn't your fault.
It's only been in thee past decade and a bit that HIV and hepatitis B and C have become a concern in addition to generic infections. These are killer diseases. Even streptococcus and staphylococcus (what cause most infections you'll see) have their fatal consequences (necrotizing fascitis, anyone?) Even if you think that your clients are pretty safe (besides which, try to prove they caught it from their tattoo or piercing, right? They probably caught it from their girlfriend/boyfriend!), your safety and thee safety ov your employees is your responsibility. Is saving that extra dollar on a pair ov gloves worth cross-contaminating some equipment, then giving yourself and your family/loved ones hep C?

What difference can I make?

Membership in a professional organization doesn't imply competence as an artist. It merely means that you paid out some annual dues and get a pretty certificate on the wall. But it does offer clients an additional criteria or standard by which to judge a shop. Many clients assume that because a shop has a business license that they meet the strictest sterility guidelines. Slightly better-informed clients will note the use of an autoclave and gloves, but most artists know that this isn't enough. Unfortunately, many clients don't.
In addition to their capacity to regulate members, professional organizations have the opportunity to educate the public, and be a valuable source of information to the media, government, public, and other pros since they're usually more accessible than individual shops. Having a certificate on the wall doesn't make your hand any steadier, or your artwork any better, or your aim truer, but at least it implies that thee client need not worry about catching hepatitis or another infection from your technique.
Going to conventions is a great way to meet fellow artists and catch up on thee latest innovations. But who has time to attend all ov those seminars when there's money to be made inking on thee floor? Besides, thee Internet has all the information you'll ever need, right? You just have to find it. Most organizations boast quarterly newsletters to members with thee latest information.

Who Cares?

When committees are being formed within governmental agencies, they usually look to members ov some kind ov organization. Why? Probably because it instills in them the feeling ov legitimacy. There are many other great artists in the world who are not members ov these associations, but dropping by a group's website or office is a lot easier than sifting through thousands ov other options. Also, many governmental agencies are really clueless when it comes to contacting the industry in question (or could care less). Why should they bother to contact a piercer or tattooist when they have a nurse, a hairdresser who pierces with guns, and a doctor on staff, right? At least these associations have a stance and a visible commitment to thee furthering ov thee art as safe.
Self-regulation would be nice, but it doesn't work all the time- and I certainly don't subscribe to the "oldschool" method ov threats and baseball bats. Anyhow, aren't these associations basically a slightly larger version ov self-regulation? CABA, thee APP and APT aren't a bunch ov bureaurats sitting on high passing down commandments. They're people in thee trenches making a living, trying to improve thee art about which they care so much. Sure, sometimes they may seem pretentious: I mean, who do they think they are, and what qualifies them to tell everyone else what to do?
I for one, am not trying to set myself above anyone else, nor did I invite government intervention. Since Health Canada asked me to participate in a working group creating guidelines for tatttooing and piercing nationwide, I'm looking forward to ensuring that the industry has at least one voice in the committee. I guess I could just sit back and watch what happens, but I care too much about body piercing and thee body modification arts to just sit at thee sidelines, hoping for thee best.

Nobody's Perfect

Unfortunately, some members ov professional organizations seem to have thee idea that by paying their dues their obligation is met. Sure, not everyone wants to be a crusader, but is it that difficult to answer thee occasional email or return phone calls from non-members? It's almost as if they feel as though only members ov thee organization have thee right or necessity to access information, whereas I believe that the outreach to non-members would be ov more import. There are also some real freaky extremists out there too who go to far. But that's another story, and overall, organizations are worthwhile. Shop around and see who is keen for your membership, offers thee most, and has a good reputation.

Why Bother?

There are those who believe that by getting involved with the beaurocracy involves nothing but trouble. The loudest naysayers seem to be more concerned about their tax-bracket rather than thee safety and propagation ov thee industry. If you don't want anyone to tell you what to do, then don't join. Sure, these organizations need membership dues to keep up thee good fight, but don't worry about it. There's probably at least one other shop in town who will join, and guess where thee local clientèle will go first when shopping around?
I believe that if you keep your head in the sand, something is going to come along and take advantage ov your butt in the air. I'm not shit-disturbing, I'm covering my ass.

Do you agree? Am I talking out ov my ass? Email me your comments, and specify if we may use them here!

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