For one day, fifth- and six-grade students from Toronto’s Parkdale Public School provided haircuts, free of charge, in hair salons across the city. Using the tresses of mannequin heads, they trained for one week with professional stylists, learning how to trim bangs, add color, shave necklines, create long layers, and use a blow dryer. While adults provided supervision during the sessions, most patrons trusted the novice hairdressers, who worked in pairs or groups, to make aesthetic decisions like color choices and hair length, on their own. The project, which later traveled internationally, culminated in a two-day series of performances at the Milk International Children’s Festival of the Arts back in Toronto.
Haircuts By Children was organized by Mammalian Diving Reflex, a Toronto-based arts and research group that creates very specific interactions between people in public spaces. For Out of My League, participants were asked to approach strangers who they believed were ‘out of their league’ and engage in conversation with them. Slow Dance with Teacher made high-school teachers available for one night to slow dance with their students. The group’s name is inspired by a self-preservation technique triggered by extreme physical duress. For example, when the body is suddenly submerged in water or caught in a freezing environment, all major bodily functions slow almost to a halt, minimizing the need for oxygen, and increasing the chances of survival. To that end, Haircuts leveraged the image of children performing a highly specialized, and personal, form or labor, as well as the often-precocious nature of 10- to 12-year-olds, to convey a larger message: If children can be empowered as creative thinkers and decision makers, shouldn’t they be allowed to vote, too?