DC art exhibit features barbershop, free haircuts throughout the summer

The Barbershop project is an immersive art exhibit where visitors can get their hair cut by professional barbers. (Courtesy Whitney Stringer)
The non-profit, CulturalDC, along with local artists and a local salon owner worked together to create the immersive Barbershop Project. (Courtesy Whitney Stringer)
Devan Shimoyama is the artist behind the Barbershop Project, an immersive art exhibit where visitors can get their hair cut for free. (Courtesy Whitney Stringer)
There’s no shortage of art museums in D.C., but a new exhibit is offering visitors something most galleries won’t have: free haircuts.

The Barbershop Project is the latest installation inside the Mobile Art Gallery, the shipping container-turned-gallery in Southeast, D.C., run by the non-profit CulturalDC.

The project is a celebration of the art of hair and barbershop culture, and is designed to be inclusive to everyone — particularly for those in the LGBTQ community. The installation features vibrant paintings and silk flower installations, along with a fully functional barbershop where professionals give free haircuts to willing visitors.

“It’s a space for people to hang out even if you don’t want to get your hair cut, and that’s part of the design,” Kristi Maiselman, executive director of CulturalDC, said. “There’s a space — there’s furniture that’s been made specifically for that space so that people can come and hang out. So it’s a welcoming space for people to come and gather and tell stories.”

CulturalDC worked with artist Devan Shimoyama, furniture maker Caleb Woodard, and local salon owner Kelly Gorsuch to create a space that Maiselman calls, “part immersive art installation and part fully functional barbershop.”

Professionals from Gorsuch’s salons, including Immortal Beloved and Barber of Hell’s Bottom on 14th Street in Northwest are volunteering at the exhibit to give visitors barbershop-style cuts.

The project’s inclusiveness and artwork, which Maiselman described as a “fantastical installation,” was inspired by Shimoyama’s experience going to barbershops as a gay man of color.

“From my understanding of the black barbershop, men come together to decompress and be candid with one another in a safe space. This space isn’t quite the same for LGBTQIA identifying people of color,” Shimoyama said.”Queer identifying people of color feel the need to perform gender in specific ways in certain settings. For example, gay black men feel the need to limit their interactions with other black men in the barbershop. After some conversations with other individuals who share these sentiments, I realized many of us find ways to mask our queerness in this setting regardless to how out and proud we are in our personal lives.”

The installation will run until mid-August at the Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus (THEARC) in Southeast.

Maiselman says the goal of the exhibit is to immerse visitors and give something back to the community.

“I think it was really important that it not just be an installation that you walk into and it just looks like a barber shop, ” Maiselman said. “I don’t think for Devan or even for Kelly that that was what the original intent was. The intent was to find a way to really engage the community one step further. And I think by creating an actual barber shop where we can give cuts to the community is not only a way to engage them, but give back to the community.”

The Barbershop Project is open now through Aug. 24. The gallery is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.. The barbershop hours are Tuesdays through Fridays 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. The hours are also subject to change.

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