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Lesley Bryant opened her U Street NW barbershop, Lady Clipper, in May 2017. Since then, she’s featured work from a varied, rotating list of local artists in the space. Patrons can buy that art right off the walls. In a city full of art museums, Bryant, born in Trinidad and raised in D.C. since she was 12, has cultivated her own community-based display at Lady Clipper. Bryant spoke with City Paper about turning her barbershop into an art gallery, the importance of supporting artists in the community, and the local artists we should know.
WCP: Why did you decide to place such an emphasis on local art and artists in your space?
Lesley Bryant: My background is in graphic design—I worked in the design industry for about 12 years before becoming a barber. When I became a barber, I felt like it was important to bring my background into it. Design and barbering are very related and the same principles apply: proportion, point, line, and plane elements. I feel like it’s important to highlight local art because we’re on U Street, which is a historical hub for art and music. I thought it made sense to continue that trend and bring it into the shop. For me, as an artist, we definitely seek a lot of inspiration. So it was important for me to give back to the community and see if there were any local artists that sat in my chair that wanted to share their work or sell their work in my shop. When I was constructing my barbershop, I thought it would be a good idea to open the walls to local artists to display their work and sell it.
WCP: So, if a customer comes into your shop and they see a piece they really love, what next steps do they take to buy the piece?
LB: Each piece has a tag with the artist’s name and a price. If you walk into the shop and say, “I love this piece, I want it,” all you do is pay me and then I pay the artist. And you walk home with your piece that day.
WCP: Sometimes you’re showcasing art from people whose work may not otherwise be featured. Do you feel that responsibility and is that part of your goal with this idea?
LB: That is the ultimate goal—to give them an outlet, give them a space, make them feel included.
WCP: How are you finding the artists you feature in your shop?
LB: Honestly, it started with a post on Instagram. I asked for anybody that wanted to be featured, any visual artist, and one response turned into 10. I only really had to post that once and it caught like a roaring fire in the community. The first artist I ever featured was one of my clients. His stuff was up and we did an art show for him, and at his art show, other artists came. At his art show, people were starting to ask me verbally “How does this work?” and “How can I get mine up?” and “When is the next availability?” So I just keep a calendar of who’s next, and we switch artists about every two months.
WCP: And D.C. is actually full of talented visual artists.
LB: Yes, I’m so surprised at how many people are doing it, and not all of the artists are doing it as their full-time job. They’re just doing this as hobbies sometimes. And how great is it to make money from your hobby?
WCP: What are the parameters for an artist who wants to be featured in the shop?
LB: Specifically, you have to be from the DMV. As long as the artwork is PG-13—we want to make sure that the art is not offensive to anyone—that’s another rule. The other rule is the artwork has to be protected. If it’s on canvas, that’s OK because it’s waterproof. Or it can be framed. We’re a barbershop first, so we want to make sure it’s either framed or on canvas in case water or hair gets on it. Sometimes people want to hang posters, and posters aren’t good unless they’re framed because if they get wet or ripped or something, I’m responsible.
WCP: Can you speak to the importance of art in your business?
LB: Art, I believe, is extremely important as far as having a community connect with each other, relate to each other. I feel like art is an equalizer. It’s like a signature—you can’t look at someone’s signature and say this person’s rich or this person’s poor. You look at art and it is up to your interpretation. It’s a bonding experience, something that people can share.
WCP: Who are some of the artists people should have on their radar?
LB: What we do on my Instagram page is every time an artist hangs, we kind of make a collage and we put a mini bio up. Let me give you a few to start: Dew Charmant, Ashley Brown, and Jessica Valoris. I think those three are really good ones.
WCP: How have you previously experienced art at barbershops or hair salons?
LB: In my experience, I have been to barbershops that have had art on the wall, but it’s been art from artists that feel like they’re unreachable or untouchable. It’s sort of like a generic thing that I’ve seen in my experience. It’s not really local paintings or photography. It seems like branded material, as opposed to something that was hand painted or photographed—more commercial and sterile. I feel like putting actual paintings and drawings and sketches up. People feel like it’s more tangible and it gives a warm feel to the shop, sort of a homey vibe. That was my mission in the first place.
WCP: Now that you’ve had your business for a few years, how do you feel like things have changed?
LB: I feel like there has been a huge uptick in the brand recognition. The other day, I walked on 14th Street and I saw one of our buttons in a store randomly sitting in a bowl with other random local buttons. It’s just been wonderful, the support and the recognition. I feel like my community is proud of what we’re doing and how inclusive we are. We definitely have gained trust and respect from the community.
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