Contemporary barbering relies on dextrous electric clipper control and a knack for shading fades. The best barbers can carve designs into the side of someone’s head with measured strokes akin to maneuvering a motorized paintbrush. The outcomes, spanning degrees of hair length and fade severity, share the distinct sense of crispiness that characterizes fresh men’s haircuts worldwide.
This genre of male grooming lives its best incarnation within the barber shops that also act as public forums. At these spaces, patrons and barbers discuss ideas, share personal news and air grievances before an audience of people waiting for their name to be called. That a barber shop can embody a community hub often overshadows the wellness component inherent in the specific form of self care these businesses proffer.
Robin Sulier-Charney, Community Liaison with the ProMedica Cancer Institute, noticed the synergy between fresh haircuts and wellness during her work conducting blood pressure screenings in predominantly Black barber shops across Toledo. “When guys go into barber shops, not only are the barbers advocates of health, they’re also artists,” Sulier-Charney said. “What [the barbers] are doing in and of itself is ‘wellness.’”
Realizing that the parallel between wellness and the art of barbering warranted recognition, Sulier-Charney linked six local barbers with the Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) and its inclusivity-minded program The Circle. The result of the relationship between The Circle and local barbers emerged as The Art of the Cut, a veritable art event planned for Sunday, February 17, from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the TMA Glass Pavilion’s GlasSalon (2444 Monroe).
“For the barbers, their effectiveness as community leaders and men’s wellness advocates has everything to do with their capacity as artists,” TMA Leadership Fellow Alyssa Greenberg said of the collaborative show.
Barbers performing during the exhibition include local hair care entrepreneurs Stacey Fletcher, owner of Fletcher’s Hair Design (1469 W Sylvania), James Foster, owner of Foster’s Barber Shop (1645 W Bancroft), Tawann Gaston, owner of Groomed (4145 Monroe), Jamal Grant, owner of Da Shop (422 East Broadway), Les Levesque, owner of Tal-Mon Barbershop (5201 Monroe) and Steve Parker, owner of Steve’s Sport-n-Cuts (4925 Dorr).
In addition to showcasing live cuts currently in vogue, the event format the barbers devised features 16 different haircuts that revisit distinct hairstyles from the 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s. Fusing elements from hair shows and fashion runways, this free art event will also feature a live DJ enhanced with libations via a cash bar.
Blending the barber shop with the art institution
Let’s indulge in stereotyping art museums. The sounds people expect to hear are those of footsteps punctuated by docents imploring spectators to keep their distance from the static art. The art pieces the docents protect have been consigned to exclusive halls, hallowed by usually esoteric curators with advanced degrees who determine what extraordinarily valuable work qualifies for display. Though longstanding art institutions continually stride toward inclusivity, shaking the pesky perception that art museums are havens for moneyed intellectuals requires time.
In contrast, barber shops exemplify an art studio that roils with conversation. The barbers’ canvases are vital human beings. People seeking a world-class fade can sit down for close to 40 minutes and leave with a laudable cut for usually between $15 and $30.
Stacey Fletcher, a barber shop owner performing in the event, noted the gap between cutting hair in his barber shop and performing at the TMA.
“The barber shop is a totally different atmosphere,” Fletcher said. “At the Art Museum we’re almost like an art exhibit. Us and the client models, we’re like the picture, the pieces of art.”
Performing barber Les Levesque suggested that the Museum’s willingness to host a barber shop-focused event represents a gesture synthesizing two communities whose collaborations are scarce.
“It means that we are finally getting a chance to be able to bring some unity with the world of art and the world of haircutting,” Levesque said.
The art of staging the progressive art event
Billed by the Toledo Museum of Art as an art event that “examines the intersection of art and health, celebrating local Black barbers and their roles as artists and men’s wellness advocates,” The Art of the Cut symbolizes a tangible effort to balloon the museum’s sphere of influence among the demographic of barber shop patrons.
To performing barber Steve Parker, that the Toledo Museum of Art, the area’s foremost gatekeeper of fine art, is producing a show celebrating haircutting as art illustrates progress.
“It says they’re reaching out to the community to recognize barbering as being an art,” Parker said.
The TMA looks to pull a broader social benefit from its barber alliance. “The event positions art as something that is a positive social good,” Greenberg said. “Art is for everyone, art is even for people who think, ‘art is not for me.’”
“At our shop, we have a lot of diversity,” Levesque said. “The way we bring people together is through haircuts. Art brings people together just like a haircut can.”
The Art of the Cut | 3-7pm | Sunday, February 17
Toledo Museum of Art Glass Pavilion GlasSalon, 2444 Monroe St. toledomuseum.org/visit/events/circle-event-art-cut