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Many Faces: Alliannah Hamilton

Updated: May 30

We’re continuing our Many Faces, One Collective series, this month featuring Alliannah Hamilton, written by Marlene Paul.


Some members of our collective have been here since ART 180’s beginning, and others we’ve known only a short time but have made a big impact. Alliannah is the latter. We met Alli about this time last year, and until this week she had a studio at Atlas and lived next door as our artist in residence. She may be moving out—our first international artist arrives shortly—but she remains heavily involved in ART 180.


Alli could be the poster child for our guiding principles of holistic health, connection to self and others, creative development, social entrepreneurship, and self-actualization. She also represents both sides of who and how we serve—the teaching artist guiding young people through creative experiences, and the “emerging” artist who can use connections and support themselves.


Alli models the resourcefulness and openness to opportunity that all artists and youth can learn from. Whether its attending bartending school to support her art practice, or teaching herself aerial yoga for a performance piece, she prioritizes her art (and herself) and maintains her independence.


Raised in Newport News, she returned home after graduating from ODU with a degree in photography and printmaking. A year later she moved out as a full time artist, “living ‘the artist life,’ making art 24/7, and trying to catch a great opportunity.” Besides doing her own art, she freelanced creating logos and music videos, photographed newborns, and bartended.


She did that for five years while involved with art communities in Hampton Roads like the Contemporary Arts Network, where she met a lot of creatives. Connections to other people and to her spirituality have guided her way. “My friend and I were talking one day and he was like, what would be the best opportunity to come right now? I was like, ‘make a movie’ and then the next day that’s when the Walking Dead opportunity came about.”


She learned about Oakwood Arts Job Education and Training (OA JET) and moved to Richmond for the year-long training and placement program for creatives underrepresented in creative industries. This included working on the Walking Dead set for six months. OA JET participants were in the newly created health and safety department, managing COVID protocols. Because everyone had to come through their department to be able to work, Alli knew all 300 crew members by name. Known as “the COVID kids,” they brought “vibrant, uplifting energy” to the set.


“We created an atmosphere on set where before, it was very strict, white male dominated. But then you have all of these black and brown people bringing a whole different kind of feel to the set environment.

It’s mostly relationships. That’s what’s always, I feel, creates opportunity.”


When the OA JET program ended, Alli was hired to work on a Netflix film in Pittsburgh. She next moved to Baltimore for a year-long art residency at The Studio House and work on an Apple TV series. Having minored in film and video studies in college, working on a major film was “definitely a dream,” but 12-hour days six-seven days a week was not.

She applied to ART 180’s Atlas Artist Residency Program last year and was hired as the assistant. Lead artist Barry O’Keefe didn’t need housing or studio space, so Alli moved in instead. She and Barry worked with nine area high school students (selected by a jury and paid a stipend), encouraging their creative development and modeling collaboration. The eight-week summer residency allows young artists to hone their craft under seasoned professionals in a studio environment. Through full days together, including trips to galleries and camping in Shenandoah National Park, they developed a common bond along with their individual artistic styles and created mixed media self-portraits exhibited in August.


This was Alli’s first ART 180 program and first time teaching youth. While she could “see all my flaws,” she felt herself growing—which made her want to continue. She wants to make sure she’s learning more about young people—“where their energy is, how to teach them and … making sure I’m making a good impact … I wanna make sure that I’m evolving in those areas.”


When the residency ended, Alli stayed on as our tenant and returned for the fall as our Atlas artist in residence to lead a program she called Digital Canvas. Young people created their own films and showed them during February First Fridays. She shared a story about Elijah.


“When he first came, it was really hard for him to talk and to explain how he feels or what he’s thinking or his ideas. At the end of the program, he was able to get out clearly from start to finish what he would think or his idea. He started to open up more and be more playful and smile.”


She noticed how he evolved emotionally and mentally. “There was a moment where he was kind of beating himself up because he thought he needed to work better on his creativity and his ideas. And I showed them a very weird film on YouTube and during it he stopped, grabbed his notebook, and drew a picture. He shared his idea and what he drew because we were coming up with our story for our stop motion film. He imagined this gray dull city where you’re not allowed to be creative. It’s a kid who lives in the city he wants to break out of and be creative. So just for him to come up with that idea, it was in that moment that that idea clicked.”


She talked about another time Elijah came up with an idea quickly. “I’m like, okay—that was really quick! You only went outside for a few seconds and then you came back. So that moment right there was also impactful.”

“That’s what I wanna do,” she said. “I struggled with my own mental and emotional—I don’t call it a disability, but challenges—and that was always like a motivating thing for me because art really helped me break out of what I thought was mental oppression. Like I was mentally depressed and getting out my ideas and then seeing them manifest, seeing them physically. I don’t know what’s in me until I let it out. And when I let it out, just to see my own evolution from that.”


“I was like Elijah, it was hard for me to get out my emotions, my feelings. I would bottle them all up because I couldn’t articulate through words what I was feeling or what I was thinking… Art has really changed my life. It’s healed me from depression and anxiety and I feel like ADHD. I mean, I think I’m gonna always have some ADHD symptoms, but I don’t recognize those as being something that’s hindering me. That’s a superpower for me. But it took my art for me to learn about myself.”


This spring she’s leading part 2 of Digital Canvas called MotionCraft, with new youth joining returning ones to collaboratively create one stop-motion animation. Although there’s still a digital aspect, Alli wanted them to make something with their hands. The first program was based in the surrealist art movement, while this one is based in metaphysics.


Besides being an artist in residence at ART 180, Alli works with Oakwood Arts leading their Shutter Scholars program and working part time on communications and programs. She’s also a digital content specialist in VCU’s Division of Community Engagement.


Because she lives her own life holistically, Alli values ART 180’s holistic model and how our artist trainings emphasize that. “I don’t think I would’ve thought that way, like let’s have this circle group, let’s talk, let’s share how our day went. Me being in class growing up, teachers didn’t care. They just said, here’s the information you need to know.”


She also values our combined approach of skill building and relationship building. “We wanna be great people and that’s the foundation, but we also wanna be great artists. I have been in environments where the relationship is there, but it’s like what are we doing? We need to be making some art here. Hold me accountable. Make me make my art, make me a better artist. Like what do you really want to say?”


Alli approaches her life like a piece of art: evolving, reflecting, trying new things, seeing what needs improving. She even has the word CREATE tattooed on her neck. “I believe expression is medicinal and everything is creation. That’s why we’re here, to create everything about this world. And this life is a creation. Every single thing.”


Alli has created much at ART 180 and inspired young people to do the same. She was one of the artists in our 2023 Easel series—a monthly lunchtime art event that returns this month—and her piece is in the group exhibition opening Friday. You can also meet her and her young filmmakers, and view their stop motion animation, at our annual block party on May 3.


-Marlene Paul,

Cofounder and Executive Director of ART 180


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