FBI probing threats against Rotterdam tattoo school
Training shown in TLC documentary stirs controversy
ROTTERDAM Lisa Fasulo’s opening line in TLC’s recent documentary on her Tattoo Learning Center says it all.
“I’m Lisa Fasulo of the Tattoo Learning Center,” she says in the first minutes of the program, “and the tattoo world hates me.”
Since starting the school in 2003, Fasulo has become used to the flak she’s caught from fellow artists for allowing her students to give real tattoos during their two weeks of training. That’s why she decided to start the hourlong documentary by adding the succinct statement.
At the time, Fasulo and fellow owner center Jeff Looman chuckled about the line because it seemed kind of melodramatic. But they never expected the firestorm of hatred and outrage that would be generated from the documentary after TLC posted a synopsis of the program on its website several weeks before it aired nationally on July 14.
Within hours of the posting, Facebook pages cropped up decrying TLC and the school on Curry Road. An online petition objecting to the learning center was posted on July 8 and garnered nearly 5,000 signatures in less than a day.
“Not only do we need to protest the show, but we need to blacklist the dumb [expletive] who’s on the show telling people its acceptable,” wrote one poster identified as Tattooalix. “Who the [expletive] does she think she is!? Any respectable tattoo artist would have immediately declined an offer to make such a mockery of our lives and industry.”
Then came the threats via email and phone, death threats and other threats of violence — both in copious amounts, Fasulo said.
The hatred reached enough of a fever pitch that Fasulo decided to contact Rotterdam Police. Investigators referred some of the threats to the FBI, which is now probing them.
“All that little paragraph did was launch an entire viral hate campaign among the tattoo community,” she said Thursday.
Rotterdam Police Lt. Jason Murphy characterized the threats as “open-ended,” with many of them left on Facebook. He said no arrests are forthcoming, but police continue to investigate.
One Capital Region tattoo artist contacted Thursday about the learning center and the TLC program offered support for both. But the artist refused to go on the record about either out of fear the outrage could rub off on his own business.
The outrage also prompted TLC to release its own statement defending the program, which is scheduled to air again on Aug. 4. Spokeswoman Joanna Brahim defended the documentary on the learning center and pointed to TLC’s history of showing different aspects of the tattoo community in its programing.
“While this method is considered controversial by some tattoo artists, including some on our air, it does exist and we chose to document it,” she said in the statement. “People can come to their own conclusions.”
The show chronicles the stories of four tattoo artists as they work through Fasulo’s school. She said the documentary is an accurate portrayal of how the school shows aspiring artists — some more talented than others — the basics of tattooing.
Fasulo said the school isn’t intended to produce seasoned veterans. Rather, it’s a starting point for those who want to get into a business that often seems exclusive.
Normally, aspiring artists must find an apprenticeship under an established professional. This period of training can last from six months to more than a year, during which time the apprentice isn’t allowed to tattoo on skin.
In contrast, the learning center gives its students a day of training before giving them a chance to apply what they’ve learned. By the second day, they’re inking permanent tattoos on real people, who pay greatly discounted prices for the amateur work.
“We are giving people the tattoo fundamentals,” Fasulo said. “We’re only saying we’re going to help you begin your journey.”
The learning center remains the only state Department of Education-licensed tattoo training facility in New York and among only a handful of schools in the country. It’s rare enough that it regularly draws students from around the country and around the globe.
“Never in a million years did I think people would form kind of a mob mentality, nor did the production company,” Fasulo said. “Honestly, nobody had seen anything like this.”
But the fervor was no surprise to Devlin Baird at A Lectric City Tattoo in Schenectady, who wrote TLC in protest of the show. The eight-year veteran of the craft said he’s had to repair some of the poor tattoos produced through the learning center and found it unconscionable that the school allows its students to practice on people.
“I don’t know what she can cover in two weeks’ time,” he said. “It kind of downgrades what is normally being accepted in this business.”