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Almost all tattoo artists at Kansas City's Timewalker quit in protest over owner's behavior

Exterior photo of a large, brick building with rustic wooden facade. A painted sign above the entrance reads "Timewalker Tattoo."
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Many people working at the Timewalker Tattoo shop in the Historic West Bottoms walked out on Monday.

The majority of artists at the West Bottoms studio quit this week after finding out about a relationship between the owner and his much younger subordinate. The artists hope their walkout changes the Kansas City tattoo scene for the better.

Nearly all the tattoo artists at Timewalker, a large tattoo parlor in the West Bottoms, quit Monday over what they say is misconduct by the owner.

Nine of the 12 people working at Timewalker left the studio. They say Marc Brotemarkle, the owner and a tattoo artist himself, is currently involved in an inappropriate relationship with an employee he directly manages.

That employee, at 18 years old, is also 20 years Brotemarkle's junior. He and the employee are two of the only three remaining people working at the studio.

“Everybody who worked there had strived to make it this space of inclusivity, of safety, of making it this desirable place to come and hang out,” said Ren Dahl (@pinkmoth.tattoo), an artist who’s tattooed at Timewalker for three years.

“It was this memorable, cherished place, and we overnight essentially had to leave it all behind because of one dude's inappropriate behavior. Everybody's feeling pretty devastated right now.”

A person leans with their arms folded on a wooden counter looking away from the camera inside a dark room. Behind them is a brick wall with images of different tattoos.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Tatto Artist Ren Dahl stands inside Till Death Tattoo Collective on Tuesday, Jan. 30. where she was readying to set up her station after leaving Timewalker Tattoo.

Each of the tattoo artists who left is a subcontractor — they run their own business but pay $1,000 a month to rent a booth at Timewalker. The West Bottoms studio is a two-floor former warehouse.

Dahl says the departed artists loved working at Timewalker because it allowed them camaraderie and space. Many of the artists initially supported Brotemarkle’s move to hire a front desk worker to maintain the large building when he took over as owner last year.

Now, he's dating the same worker.

Neither Brotemarkle nor the front desk worker responded to KCUR's requests for comment. However, Brotemarkle confirmed the relationship Tuesday in a series of posts on his Instagram.

"To anyone that actually cares, we're doing fine and are happy," Brotemarkle wrote.

Screenshots of several messages posted by @inkcmob on Instagram.
Screenshots of several messages posted by Marc Brotemarkle (@inkcmob) on Instagram on Tuesday.

Dahl said the mass exodus was an the artists' attempt to protect themselves and their clients from inappropriate behavior. She wants the public to know they left with good intentions.

“One of those things that the tattoo industry struggles with sometimes is predatory men in positions of power,” Dahl said. “We've been really trying to curate a forward-thinking shop and trying to put some of the bad stigma of the industry behind us.”

Benjamin Carlson (@blackbenny), who’s been tattooing at Timewalker for more than three years, says leaving has cost him and the other artists thousands of dollars in lost working hours and increased rent at new tattoo parlors.

But Carlson said he couldn’t condone the relationship between Brotemarkle and his subordinate, and believes the walkout will change the Kansas City tattoo scene for the better.

Dahl and Carlson, along with a few other tattoo artists from Timewalker, plan to open their own studio in a few months. In the meantime, Carlson will tattoo at Black Atlas Tattoo in Waldo. Dahl, along with two other artists from Timewalker, will set up shop at Till Death Tattoo Collective in the Westside neighborhood.

“I hope people are aware of the places they work and the way they treat people,” Carlson said. “It takes every single part of the tattoo community to make a good tattoo community.”

When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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