New Beginnings Barbershop and Luvs Art Project Fundraise and Focus on Positive Work and Community Engagement by Cara Ober
“New Beginnings Barbershop appears like a Kerry James Marshall painting manifested in Baltimore,” wrote Angela N. Carroll in her essay “A Sanctuary for Art and Fellowship: Troy Staton and New Beginnings Barbershop,” published in Issue 04: Community of the BmoreArt Journal of Art + Ideas. “Since their inception, [black] barbershops have served as multifunctional facilities: safe spaces, community hubs, houses for healers, and provisions for those in need of gifted hands. In all iterations, black standards of beauty and wellbeing are placed at the center to promote and guard self-care services for black patrons.”
Carroll wrote at length about Staton’s historic Hollins Market barbershop as an extension of his community- and art-minded mission, a sanctuary where Staton functions as a barber, community liaison, elder, advisor, advocate for artists, collector, and curator. Not only does Staton exhibit contemporary works on his walls on a regular basis, he displays numerous pieces from his personal collection in the space as well.
Angela N. Carroll, with Troy Staton and Mr. Al, a longterm New Beginnings Barbershop client
“Sitting there, I considered the number of patrons who found solace in New Beginnings, relaxed into the leather seat of a master barber’s chair and were made new by Staton’s mindful precision,” wrote Carroll. “The bonds forged between a barber, barbershop, and community function as remarkably important intergenerational economic and emotional exchanges, as well as healing and transformative encounters.” Under Staton’s direction, New Beginnings has expanded to include the LuvsArt Project, a non-profit arts advocacy organization, and created space for community gatherings, health screening, ShopTalks, block parties, and art-based activities designed to build community.
Does it amplify the tragedy when a shooting occurs in a space lovingly designated as a cultural sanctuary?
“On Wednesday October 31st, a frustrated, and misguided young man came into the barbershop shooting,” explained Staton in a statement issued after the incident. “He wasn’t aiming for me, but I was shot along with another client.”
Rather than expressing anger towards the young man, Staton said, “I’m ready to elevate even further, to keep pushing for our community, especially for young men like the man who shot me, whose life circumstances lead them to feel they have no option other than violence. I want to reach them and show them that there is another way. We have to do better as a city.”
Reached by phone, Staton said he was in good heath and left the hospital the same night, but with a stronger sense of purpose than ever before. “My thing has always been solutions over problems,” he said. “I’m focused on the solution–I don’t have time to focus on the problem. I rarely look back at what I have done or accomplished, and I am focused on moving forward.”
“It’s been a week since I was shot,” said Staton. “It’s been hard for me to even say those words out loud, because it was always my greatest fear. It made me a bit more focused, after the incident took place, and during it, the only thing that came across my mind was my work isn’t done. I have a lot more work to do and a whole new perspective.”
Staton explained that he had never felt pushed to the point of violence, but he understands how it can happen for so many young men in Baltimore City. “Too often they don’t see pathways forward, and they want a different life, they want to feel in control, they want to feel powerful. When you mix the frustration that comes from hopelessness and powerlessness with anger, violence is too often the result.”
“I was lucky,” he said, with classic Troy Station enthusiasm. “I’ve been barbering since I was a kid, and I always had that. Always knew I had a way to make money and take care of my family. Even with that, I used to be knucklehead too. But I got my head on straight in my 20s and I’ve been moving forward since then. But I see my younger self in these frustrated young men. So, one week out, I am nothing but grateful and determined. I am grateful that I am healthy enough to move forward with my work. I am grateful for so many of you who have sent love and prayers. And I am grateful for all of you who supported LuvsArt Project so I can do more, faster. And I’m grateful that I still have a chance to play a role in building a healthier community.”
“When I walked out from the hospital, three hours after what had took place, I felt a bit more determined,” he said. ” I was overwhelmed by the level of love and support from my community, my city. Not just Holland Market, the art community, the barber community, but the city at large.” In the wake of the incident, Staton received an outpouring of calls, cards, support, and requests to help. Rather than focus on himself, he started an online fundraising campaign for LuvsArt Project – and managed to raise around $5000 in the first day.
“If you want to help, you can help me reach more people with my work through my organization,” says Staton. “Help me reach more young people so they can see their possibilities beyond hopelessness and violence.”
When he first launched the LuvsArt Project, the organization’s mission was to bring art to the community and the community to the arts. But, as he gathered people around art, he realized that the ability to bring people together served a deeper purpose, and they expanded the work to community gatherings, health screening, ShopTalks, block parties, and other activities “that help us all find the beauty in each other.” With the additional funds raised, the LuvsArt Project will curate new exhibitions and a series of community dialogues about violence in Baltimore.
In her essay, Angela Carrol wrote: “For over twenty years Troy has honed his skills, by cutting hair and providing other services atypical of barbershops. Like generations of barbers before him, Staton has been witness to births, deaths, and the rote everyday occurrences of life in his community. The beauty and oddity of New Beginnings rests in its incorporation and spearheading of initiatives that support the physical, spiritual and emotional wellbeing of its patrons.”
Carroll was curious about Staton’s connection to art, and the reasons he decided to utilize the barbershop as an alternative art space. “More people will be exposed to art at a barbershop from the inner city than at a museum,” Staton offered to her. “Every time someone comes into the shop, they see a new work of art. I am fortunate to merge both of my passions.”
According to Carroll, “The leap Staton describes isn’t farfetched or isolated to Baltimore. Even now, I get strange looks when I stare too long at a work of art exhibited in a major museum. For some, my blackness and perceived youth conflict with privileged sentiments about who those spaces are actually created for, whose gaze and voyeurism is perceived as curious and not criminal. It’s no wonder that black youth and adults feel more comfortable seeing themselves reflected in establishments that pride themselves on cultivating black culture.”
On the LuvsArt Project page, Staton’s statement expresses his determinedly positive, pro-active stance, going forward. “Who is ready to build with me? Let’s work together on trying to heal our community. It’s not about small change, it’s time to do it big. If you want to support LuvsArt Project, you can do that here. If you want to come see the art exhibition I’m going to curate on violence, or be part of the community dialogues I’m going to put together, hit like or follow on the LuvsArt Project page, so you can follow what we’re doing. If you want to just stop by the barbershop for a haircut or a conversation, I’ll see you there. Thanks again. My work is just beginning.”
On the phone, Staton repeatedly expressed enthusiasm for all the projects he has planned on the horizon, including an exhibition at the Haskins Center, an annual holiday exhibition of work by the Extel Academy at the barbershop opening Nov. 29 he organizes with artist Ernest Shaw, a third exhibit to be hosted in a yoga studio in Columbia, MD, as well as plans for a Neighborhood Lights exhibition, part of Light City Baltimore in March.
“I’m just doing my part,” Staton insists. “I was lucky. Clearly God is telling me that I have a lot more work to do here, and that’s what I plan to do.”
To support LuvsArt Project Fundraiser, click here.
All photos by Kelvin Bulluck for the BmoreArt Journal of Art + Ideas: Issue 04 Community.