Hamilton Glass: The Artist and Architect behind RVA Community Makers

Artist Hamilton Glass, also known as “Ham,” is a Philadelphia-born, Hampton University graduate, who has proudly called Richmond home since 2007. And it’s here in RVA where he has also made his name as a painter and muralist with a genuine concern for building community and bridging divides. His relationship with VMFA has always involved dialogue and creative exchange. After participating in VMFA’s 2018 African American Read-In, Glass says he had a “lightbulb” moment. He then approached the museum with his idea, and soon RVA Community Makers was born.

Portrait photo of PaulaHere, Paula Saylor-Robinson, VMFA’s Director of Audience Development and Community Engagement since 2016, reflects on the development of this innovative and engaging program, now in its third consecutive year, and Glass’s profound contribution to VMFA’s mission.

One of the most rewarding projects I have been involved with is RVA Community Makers, a mixed-media public art mural and when I say public, I mean anyone in the community who wishes to participate is welcome. Created specifically to coincide with VMFA’s celebration of Black History Month, this project has many important community connections:

  • Partnering with local artist Hamilton Glass, a star in the RVA art scene
  • Celebrating local Black community leaders, who are recognized for the way they engage in extraordinary work that benefits RVA on a daily basis
  • Highlighting the talent and creativity of a variety of local Black artists
  • Engaging many, including artists, aspiring artists, community leaders, and anyone willing to contribute to a public art project
  • Providing an open and welcoming space for artistic expression and dialogue

I am so very proud of the work the team does to make RVA Community Makers a reality, and especially grateful to Hamilton Glass for bringing his ideas, artistry, and passion for community to VMFA.

We kicked off the first RVA Community Makers in January 2019 with an in-studio community painting event, inspired by Hamilton’s vision for such an activity. The intention was to welcome all audiences into VMFA to honor members of the Richmond community who make a difference, while inviting the public to work alongside an artist. As a literal transformation of life and story into visual art, Hamilton created portraits of eight community leaders.

People at an art activity

Throughout that February, Hamilton worked every week on the eight-panel mural in the WestRock Art Education Studios. As part of an Open Studio Sunday program, we invited visitors to help create the mural by filling in “paint-by-number” panels that Hamilton had created. Richmond Memorial Health Foundation, ART 180, and Virginia Humanities generously sponsored RVA Community Makers’ inaugural year.

We didn’t know what to expect that first year, but when hundreds of visitors showed up in the Atrium for the unveiling—many who were first-time visitors to VMFA—we knew we were on to something. This type of engagement is directly tied to the museum’s mission of enriching the lives of all Virginians. As one of the artists honored in the 2019 RVA Community Makers project, acclaimed Virginia artist Dennis Winston speaks about art’s power to affect the life of a community: “As an artist and educator, I have witnessed over the years the transformative impact that art can have on both individuals and communities.”

RVA Community Makers

Watch this six-minute video to learn more about RVA Community Makers 2019. In the scene pictured above, honorees stand before their portraits: (top row, l to r) Rodney Lofton, Carol Adams, Enjoli Moon, Angela Patton; (bottom row, l to r) Rebecca Keel, Damon Jiggets, Dennis Winston, Ram Bhagat.

The 2020 RVA Community Makers was thematically tied to Working Together: Louis Draper and the Kamoinge Workshop, a photography exhibition on view at the time. (Explore Working Together’s online content.) VMFA collaborated with six local photographers to capture another group of “community makers.” To create the mixed-media title board placed at center, Hamilton used acrylic paints and photos, which were submitted by visitors as part of a photo booth stationed in the Atrium during VMFA’s Open Studio Sunday event.

The mural

In the spirit of the Kamoinge Workshop, the public art project involved artist, community leaders, and photographers “working together” to create art and to support each other as community. The RVA Community Makers 2020 mural, pictured above in VMFA’s Atrium, featured (l to r) Elaine Williams (photo by Courtney Jones), Larry Lindsey (photo by James Wallace), Barbara Grey (photo by Regina Boone), Alice Freeman (photo by Ayasha Sledge), Duron Chavis (photo by Sandra Sellars), and Jasmine Leeward (photo by Brian Palmer).

Today with nearly an entire pandemic-stricken year behind us and mostly virtual programming still in place, VMFA and Hamilton teamed up again—undaunted and determined to forge ahead with RVA Community Makers 2021. This year’s new mixed-media public art mural celebrates Richmond-area musicians as well as visual artists. Inspired by the highly anticipated exhibition The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse, which opens May 22, the project honors five musicians, who were selected by a panel of RVA community leaders Enjoli Moon, Micah “Bam-Bamm” White, and Marc Cheatham along with VMFA staff.

The panel selected five accomplished musicians—each for his or her creativity and impact on the RVA community. Each of the selected musicians is paired with a local visual artist designated to create a work of art inspired by that musician: jazz musician J. Plunky Branch (Mahari Chabwera), blues & jazz vocalist Desireé Roots (Justice Dwight), R&B vocalist Dr. Jon Bibbs (David Marion), hip-hop artist Z- Bey tha Poet (Nadd Harvin), and gospel singer Cora Armstrong (Austin Miles).

Commenting on what art and music mean to him, honoree J. Plunky Branch’s sentiments reflect the intent of RVA Community Makers and the contributions of the many artists and musicians involved: “Art and music in all their forms and genres are glorious manifestations of human aspirations. . . . My goal has been to remain committed to serving and, hopefully, inspiring the community.”

Audiences are also invited to watch compelling interviews with the musical and visual artists highlighted in this year’s RVA Community Makers. Ms. Community Clovia of KISS Richmond and Praise 104.7 will host the 60-minute program to stream on the Facebook pages for KISS 105.7, Praise 104.7, IPower 92.1, and VMFA. After its premiere on February 24 at 6 pm, the program will be available to watch on VMFA’s YouTube channel.

Someone taking a photo at the 2019 event

Since 2019, RVA Community Makers has grown and evolved. In the past three years, we have honored 19 individuals, highlighted 12 artists, and displayed the final art project at three other venues, including the Black History Museum. This multifaceted, thought-provoking, and community-activated project has become a fixture in VMFA’s Black History Month programming. It showcases Black history being made every day of the year in RVA and does so in a place where African American art and artists are celebrated all year long.