Did the Richmond Tattoo Festival Lose Its Charm? Attendees Weigh In


The 19th annual Richmond Tattoo Arts Festival was held on November 18-20, 2011. Shockingly, despite having lived in Richmond for eight years, this was my first time checking it out. However, I went with friends who have been many times before. The new location at the Greater Richmond Convention Center allowed ample parking; maybe it was the time of day that we went, but we found parking with ease. There are also a plethora of surrounding hotels for visitors from out of town, and if nothing else, the convention center is a little closer to crash at friends spot in the fan compared to the previous location, at the Koger Center Holiday Inn in Midlothian.

The business center presented an oddly corporate atmosphere. Nothing too crazy or out of the ordinary happened, other than the expected rush of numerous inked people walking towards the buzzing ballroom. We felt the excitement of viewing or receiving work from tattoo artists, and expected to find a burst of creatives and body art from many talented people and enthusiasts, yet going through the doors, the huge space in front of us seemed quiet. Perhaps due to the great big open space, it didn’t seem too crowded at all. It was incredibly easy to view the amazing local and visiting artists. I can’t even begin to list my favorites.

I can imagine having to uphold the festival tradition, begun 18 years ago by Crazy Ace Daniels and Billy Eason, was a heavy task, especially in light of the new location, after eighteen years at the same spot. We cannot expect that the tattoo convention will be exactly the same as the previous years, and I have to give it up to Flaco Productions, Absolute Art Tattoo, and Jack Brown’s Tattoo Revival for keeping it up. I really did enjoy what I came to see, and truly the artists did not disappoint. I’m still kicking myself for not having enough money to get some long awaited work done. The beer was overpriced, but all in all, it was a good time.

But what was missing? I had nothing to compare to, as I had not experienced the past festivals, but my fellow attendees were slightly disappointed. Even other guests I spoke to had noticed a big difference. I ran into a couple of saddened roller derby girls with skates strung over their shoulders; due to insurance issues they were not allowed to roll the floor to promote. Samantha Harmon, a four time tattoo conventioneer, commented, “I thought the location was awesome, but I thought it lacked the charm it had previous years. Aside from a bunch of really awesome artists, there were hardly any other vendors. There was one stand with earrings and they only had 2 pairs of size 0. My hand-painted purses and wallets were gone, there was hardly any artwork for sale that wasn’t flash, and to top it all off, there was no known after party after the bars closed.”

On a more positive note, Harmon continued, “I do, however, think that in a few years it’s gonna be über awesome, once they get the variety back in the vendors. Call me crazy, but I kinda missed having it in the hotel with a a bar in the lobby plus two on the floor. It forced everyone to mingle. And you didn’t have to cab it from the convention to the after party, and then home–it was all under one roof.” Another avid goer of the convention, Kellie Brown said, “The talent was amazing–there were great artists from across the nation–but it lacked the former years’ smoke-filled-room grunginess. There was a very sterile feeling. Which, yes, you want when getting tattooed. [But] it wasn’t the same feeling I’ve had from attending for the past 8 years. I missed the insanity. I’m eagerly awaiting next year’s convention to see if the new director took notes and changed anything.”

In the end, while this year’s tattoo convention was good to check out, we really want to see what’s in store for next year now that the convention center is broken in.

April Kelly

April Kelly

April Lauren Kelly is a graphic designer, illustrator, and owner of Mustard Buffalo Studio, LLC. Her work includes various mediums, picture book illustration, logo, poster, and all forms of marketing collateral with the occasional dabble in editorial content. She has a passion for Richmond’s amazing artists, music, culture and community. Her mission is to encourage other artists in owning their worth.

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