October 27, 2020 News & Features » Cover Story

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Claire O’Keefe, 24 

Director of Canvas, Summit Producer at Envoy

click to enlarge feat44_claireokeefe12.jpg

Scott Elmquist

Just as O’Keefe put the finishing touches on Canvas, a studio, event space and community gathering place in Forest Hill, the pandemic hit. As a producer for Envoy, a consulting firm, she booked and facilitated events for a worldwide client base – now everything was canceled. She went to work adapting and improvising Canvas to become a leader in the art of the socially distanced meeting.

Canvas had momentum going into 2020 after playing host to Migration Flow last year, Virginia’s first celebration of National Immigrants Day, where it worked with Alfonso Perez Acosta, a 2019 Top 40 winner, and Initiatives of Change. The two-day celebration brought together a multicultural community for a weekend of dance, music, food, drawing and conversation. Also in 2019, it played host to a three-day gun-violence-prevention event. 

“People travel to Richmond to come to events here because we are able to create a sense of community and safeness. You walk in the door and it’s grounded. You feel like you are walking into your own home.”

A Richmond native, she describes herself as an empath who feels most fulfilled when she steps into others’ shoes. “I love learning people’s stories. People fascinate me. And I love creating a space that people can come to and I can learn about them, that’s my angle.”

“Canvas is about the human connection, getting together, putting your phone down and having a conversation with someone, actively listening to them,” she says.

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