RVA Community Makers 2024

On view from February 15 to March 14, 2024
Cochrane Atrium

Celebrating its sixth year, RVA Community Makers is an annual community-activated art project presented by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and led by artist Hamilton Glass. Coinciding with VMFA’s celebration of Black History Month, the yearly project honors African American leaders from a variety of fields. Each year, honorees are selected for their influence, impact, and inspirational story. They are the “makers” that strengthen our community. As a public art project, RVA Community Makers showcases the Black history being made every day in RVA, where African American art and artists are celebrated all year long.

Inspired by VMFA’s photography exhibition Dawoud Bey: Elegy, RVA Community Makers 2024 addresses hidden histories and imaginative storytelling by honoring members of the community who strive to uncover and share stories of African American life.

VMFA’s RVA Community Makers’ lead artist, Hamilton Glass, works with fellow Richmond artist Unicia Buster to honor, through tapestry and quilting, community members whose contributions have uplifted and celebrated African American narratives. Alongside a paper quilt created by local community members, Buster’s textile-based artworks tell a story of connection through one of the most timeless and transcendent mediums in African American history.

2024 Honorees

Click to learn more about Dawoud Bey: Elegy

J. Dontrese Brown 

J. Dontrese Brown is a strategic thought leader and change agent with deep expertise in community collaboration and designing justice into our built environment. He is masterful in navigating transformational change through a uniquely diverse, interdisciplinary combination of business and marketing acumen, creative design, strategic planning, and an intentional commitment to community development and social justice. Most recently, he cofounded Hidden In Plain Site, a virtual reality exploration of distinct but overlooked sites around our nation that tell the story of the Black experience throughout America’s history. He also led the historical movement to rename Richmond, Virginia’s Boulevard to Arthur Ashe Boulevard, and led the vision to make Cristo Rey Richmond High School (CRRHS) a reality for the underserved youth of the city’s communities.

A sought-after speaker on design and innovation, strategic leadership, and aligning purpose with passion, he serves as the Board Chair for Urban Hope, Vice-Chair of Richmond Public Library, and on the board of directors for BridgePark RVA, Richmond Arts Institute, CRRHS, and Dominion Energy Innovation Center (DEIC). Brown is a member of the Leadership Metro Richmond 2020 Cohort and the Ujima Legacy Fund and earned graphic design degrees from Georgetown College (BFA), Morehead State University (MA), and Savannah College of Art & Design (MFA).

Click to learn more about Theaster Gates: Wonder Working Power

Elvatrice Parker Belsches 

Richmond native Elvatrice Parker Belsches is a public historian, archival researcher, lecturer, author, and filmmaker who lectures locally and nationally on the Black experience in history. She is the author of Black America Series: Richmond, Virginia (Arcadia Publishing), and eight biographical entries to date for the African American National Biography (AANB), a collaborative publication of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University and Oxford University Press. She has also worked as a consultant under an NEH grant with Reynolds Community College and was awarded a grant in 2020 by Virginia Humanities to develop the script for a documentary on noted educator Virginia Randolph. Belsches served under the auspices of the art department led by Academy Award–winning production designer Rick Carter on Steven Spielberg’s motion picture Lincoln, where some of her contributions can be seen in both the trailer and the film.

Belsches’s awards include the Maggie L. Walker Heritage Award (2010) for her establishment of an earlier birth year for Mrs. Walker and the creation of the Historic Jackson Ward Podcast Tour commissioned by the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site and the National Park Service. In 2016 her three-part series, When Freedom Came, commissioned by the Richmond Free Press, was recognized as runner-up for the Journalistic Integrity and Community Service Award by the Virginia Press Association at their state conference. She is a former faculty member at Hampton University, where she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and a graduate of the MCV/VCU School of Pharmacy. She has done additional graduate work in the graduate certificate program in public history at the University of Richmond.

Click to learn more about Theaster Gates: Wonder Working Power

Ana F. Edwards  

Ana F. Edwards is a public historian living and working in Richmond, Virginia. She and her husband, Phil Wilayto, are two of four cofounders of the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality (2002), an all-volunteer, anti-racist, internationalist, social justice activism group. In 2004, Edwards and Wilayto launched the Defenders’ Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project, to promote the history, reclamation, and memorialization of Gabriel’s Rebellion and Richmond’s first municipal African Burial Ground, and of the Shockoe Bottom district, the city’s original municipal footprint and 30+ year epicenter of the US domestic slave trade. Edwards serves on the editorial board of The Virginia Defender newspaper, which the group established in 2005 and Phil edits.

A native of Los Angeles, California, Edwards holds a BA in Visual Arts from California State Polytechnic University at Pomona and, because of the Sacred Ground Project, decided to go back to school in 2016 and graduated in 2020 with an MA in History with postbaccalaureate certificate in Public History from Virginia Commonwealth University. Last fall, after six years as an interpreter and educator with the American Civil War Museum, Edwards accepted the position of Assistant Professor for VCU’s Department of African American Studies.

Click to learn more about Theaster Gates: Wonder Working Power

Lauranett Lee 

Lauranett Lee is the inaugural Director of Race and Social Justice at Richmond Hill, an ecumenical retreat center in Virginia’s capital city. She also holds a courtesy appointment as a Visiting Scholar in the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement at the University of Richmond. As a public historian, Lee specializes in teaching, collaborating, and working with diverse community and academic audiences. She received a BA in Communications from Mundelein College (now a part of Loyola University, Chicago), an MA in American History from Virginia State University, and a PhD in American History from the University of Virginia. From 2001 to 2016, she was the founding curator of African American History at the Virginia Historical Society (now the Virginia Museum of History and Culture). She was a member of the team that created Unknown No Longer, a genealogy database to help descendants find their ancestors. Her book, Making the American Dream Work: A Cultural History of African Americans in Hopewell, Virginia, was commissioned by the Hopewell City Council in 2008.

She has taught at Old Dominion University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Union University, John Tyler Community College, and currently the University of Richmond (UR), where she is an adjunct faculty member in the Jepson School of Leadership Studies. In 2019, she directed UR’s inclusive history research project, which investigated slavery, race, and segregation in the institution’s history. She serves on the Dr. Martin Luther King Commission, Roslyn Conference and Retreat Center, and Virginia Africana Associates, in addition to other volunteer initiatives. She is the sole proprietor of L.L. Lee & Associates and consults with museums, design firms, educators, and community and faith groups.

Click to learn more about Theaster Gates: Wonder Working Power

Brian Palmer 

Brian Palmer is a Peabody Award–winning visual journalist based in Richmond, Virginia. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, Richmond Free Press, The New Republic, and other publications; and on PBS, BBC, and Reveal/PRX. His photographs are in the collections of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Library of Congress, and others.

Since the end of 2014, Palmer and his wife, Erin Hollaway Palmer, have been part of the volunteer effort to reclaim East End Cemetery, a historic African American burial ground in Henrico County, Virginia, from nature, neglect, and vandalism. Until recently, Palmer was the Joan Konner Visiting Professor of Journalism at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. He has taught at the undergraduate and graduate level at the School of Visual Arts (SVA), Baruch College, New York University, Hampton University, and the University of Richmond, and is a member of SVA’s Board of Directors.

Palmer began his career as a fact-checker for the Village Voice newspaper. Before going freelance in 2002, he served in several staff positions—Beijing bureau chief for U.S. News & World Report; staff writer at Fortune; and on-air correspondent at CNN. He was awarded a Ford Foundation grant for Full Disclosure, a video documentary about his three media embeds in Iraq with 1st Battalion/2nd Marine Regiment, completed in 2009.

About the Artists

Click to learn more about Dawoud Bey: Elegy

Hamilton Glass, artist, muralist, project creator

Hamilton Glass’s career as an artist stems from his architecture and design background. Despite working in the architecture field for seven years, his passion for public art pushed him to start a career as an artist. Public art has always been a big inspiration for Glass because of its power to influence and inspire the surrounding community. With every opportunity Glass is given to create, he tries to convey a message that connects his art to the community. Inspired by his background in architecture, he creates images that reference architectural drafting practices by using sharp lines, scale, and balance in each piece. Bright colors and unpredictable lines and shapes are used to convey energy and movement. Glass’s work isn’t just a single canvas, print, or mural. One of the things he enjoys most is creating multilayered projects that amplify many voices. In 2020, he founded two large projects, Mending Walls and All In Together, which were created to address the civil unrest and pandemic raging in our country. This was a way for Glass to process current events and share that opportunity for expression with others through art. He is always looking to use his art as an inspiration and healing tool in the community, as well as being a great example of a working Black artist.

Click to learn more about Theaster Gates: Wonder Working Power

Unicia Buster, textile artist, creator of portraiture of honorees

Unicia Buster, a native of Richmond, Virginia, received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Cornell University and a Master of Arts degree from George Mason University. She was a recipient of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Artist Fellowship and has exhibited throughout Richmond and Virginia, as well as in New York, Italy, DC, and South Carolina. Her work is in various private and public collections. She previously worked as a graphic designer for the Richmond Free Press and as an art specialist for VCU Health. She is currently the program manager for Richmond’s 1708 Gallery. Buster illustrated and self-published two coloring books, Coloring Curls, as well as a self-help journaling book, Finding Your Picasso. She is an active and founding member of the Black American Artists’ Alliance of Richmond, and a member of Richmond Really Sews. Buster works primarily in fiber, creating art quilts and soft sculptures. She also does acrylic painting and mixed media work. Her art explores the meaning of self and how we define who we are as human beings. She is inspired by nature and a thirst for new knowledge.