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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Tucson’s Spark Project Collective is one of the only nonprofit tattoo and piercing shops in the world

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Amanda Mourelatos

Tattoo apprentice Hunter Burns tattoos a cartoon frog from Spark Project Collective’s flash sheets on a client. 

In Tucson, there are dozens of tattoo and piercings shops to choose from, but Spark Project Collective stands out as the only nonprofit one.

Located at 4433 E. Broadway Blvd., Spark Project offers flash tattoos, custom tattoos, piercings and hosts events for the public while raising money towards causes around the Tucson area. Owner and founder John Vasquez was inspired by another nonprofit he has that helps children on the autism spectrum.

“It was a way to integrate tattooing and body piercing, which was an industry I was already a part of that I knew made good income, and I wanted to utilize that income to help benefit the community,” Vasquez said.

The shop is a charitable organization with its own 501(c)(3), and also runs an events center in a separate building next door. The center hosts about 30-43 events every month. According to Vasquez, any excess money left over from events is put back out into the community towards “like-minded nonprofits.”

Tattoo apprentice Rhi Drennan applies the stencil onto her client’s arm. 
Tattoo apprentice Rhi Drennan applies the stencil onto her client’s arm. 

Half of the money from the tattoos and piercings is used to pay the tattoo artists and piercers at the shop, and the other half is used to pay for the front counter workers, rent, utilities and donations. The artists commission their work into the “flash sheets” that are renewed every month, which are lists of tattoos displayed both in the shop and online at sparkprojectcollective.com/promotions.

“From there, it’s [the remaining money] allocated to the different programs that we have […] once we get all that funded, we start purchasing toys and goods for the children of the foster systems,” Vasquez said. “This year, we’re on pace to do about 40,000 toys. We’ve done about 15,000 hygiene kits for the homeless. We go to the different Goodwills and purchase clothing on their Thursday Dollar Days and take those around to the different homeless shelters. We also do free zoo visits for the families that are low income in the area.”

Going into the shop, there are usually handmade items like earrings and clothing to purchase at the front counter or in the waiting room. Most of those items are created by the artists that work at Spark Project Collective. To Vasquez, it’s a way to allow the artists to learn how to build financial security for the future. Besides the tattoo side of the business, he feels he is helping the artists to develop and run their own businesses.

Spark Project Collective works closely with Gospel Rescue Mission, GAP Ministries, Tucson Homeless Connect and Arizona Children’s Association, among others. When other organizations reach out to Vasquez, he looks into the finances and where the money is allocated. To Vasquez, the money should be distributed back to the community and not go into the pockets of the heads of the company.

Spark Project Collective has partnered with over 22 organizations since it first opened. Vasquez is more open to hosting events for organizations that need funding than just handing over the money needed.

“I like knowing that I’m helping the community in general,” Vasquez said. “My favorite aspect of all the stuff we do is actually not in-house. I’ll randomly pick times of the year where I’ll have the workers write down positive words of affirmation, and then we’ll put $50-$100 into an envelope with a note that they wrote. I have them hand them out throughout the city. I’m real big on just random positive affirmations. Granted, it’s not part of the nonprofit part of things per se. I think it helps open the eyes in the community that someone is willing to help.”

Piercer Hannah Pearson pierces a client’s double lobes as she takes a deep breath in and out.
Piercer Hannah Pearson pierces a client’s double lobes as she takes a deep breath in and out.

For many guests, one of Spark Project Collective’s most memorable aspects is its staff.

Regulars Lisa Robinson and Colton Echols have been going ever since the place was recommended to them.

“We’re doing something for other people in that type of way that is amazing,” Robinson said. “We will not go anywhere else.”

Echols said he connected with tattoo apprentice Milena “Mel” Borozan “on a different level.”

Tattoo apprentice Ceaira Miranda has been in her apprenticeship program since June 2022. The shop being a nonprofit organization is the reason why she started there.

“My favorite part is that we bring the community of Tucson together. There’s lots of diversity, everyone here is different and we’re all just a big bunch of weirdos that love to get tattooed,” Miranda said.

Sarah Drottz has been a part of her tattoo apprenticeship program for three years now. Being a tattoo artist wasn’t her original plan, but over time it has become her passion.

“It was an accident. I didn’t plan for it, but I fell in love,” Drottz said. “The people that come in really appreciate what we do.”

Vasquez’s future goal is to have a second Spark Project Collective location in Tucson open around the middle of next year. From there, every six months, he hopes to open another location in a different state. Vasquez’s overall goal is to have 100 stores in 10 years.

Spark Project Collective is open 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday and 12 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.


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