the CANVAS backstory
We started as a group of negotiators who were seeking a space to provide a calm, inspiring environment for our clients to shape strategy, ideate new products, and talk through difficult issues. Nothing on the real estate market had the core elements needed - discreet, understated, welcoming, and with limited interference of technology. So we built our own. In partnership with a local landlord, we leased and renovated an old house to create a flexible lounge environment. Within a few weeks, clients were pulling up in the rear lot, walking through the discreet back door and making themselves coffee before heading into tough conversations. Canvas was born.
Very quickly, companies and non-profits were not only asking us to use the space for their meetings but for us to provide scenarios for them to work through their strategy issues or conflicts. And then we were asked to provide moderators for these discussions, and activities for breakouts. Before long we were asked to deliver this content at meetings across the country. We expanded Canvas to met these requests and folded-in the speaking engagements we’d traditionally done as part of the Canvas offering.
Confronted with this assortment of meeting space, strategy scenarios, and a few talks that now formed Canvas, we reached out to event planners to ask what they needed most. A few common refrains appeared: content that is specific, expert, and unusual; content that shows a diversity of perspectives; and a relaxed meeting space that can accommodate between 10 and 40 people for their sometimes difficult, but meaningful conversations. So we set to work….
We continue to build a roster of speakers that cuts across a swathe of subjects. We’re keeping our core of talks on negotiation, market disruption, and storytelling. And rapidly adding talks that include global trade, conflict resolution, racial justice, the economics of aging, international decision-making, the opioid epidemic and how we address it.
Recognizing that as global politics and economics becomes more uncertain and less predictable, the old MBA-style business plan is no longer relevant. We dove into the negotiation and behavioral economics literature and designed hands-on exercise scenarios for leadership teams to work through to develop their market strategy or design new products and services. They’re deployed today, along with Canvas moderators, at the highest levels of global corporates, and US and European government agencies.
Urban Retreat Center
And finally, we focused on building a retreat center for leadership meetings at an accessible price point. We’ve embraced the irony of creating a center for conflict resolution in a city - Richmond, VA - that has a torn history of liberty, revolution, secession, and enslavement. There’s something about the blue city, surrounded by red rural counties as the Capitol of a purple state, that makes it the perfect backdrop for conversations about the past and the future. Whether that’s walking the Trail of Enslaved Africans, visiting Jefferson’s site of the Declaration of Religious Freedom, or biking the miles of trails and rafting the river before tapping into the local breweries.
We’ve added a second building to the original house that is designed as a marketplace for ideas (in a former life it was a neighborhood market). It can host lectures, dinners, product development sessions, photo shoots. It’s our big blank space. We commissioned local artist, Keith Ramsey, to up-cycle materials to create an outdoor courtyard, with bar, to host breaks, lunches, and outdoor happy hours. Inside the main house, we worked with Aaron Anderson to design a world-class sound studio to allow leaders to record and document the agreements and strategies shaped at Canvas, to be shared with their teams and customers around the world.
Along with the physical location, we designed a range of itineraries to get meeting participants thinking differently and connecting more deeply. That might look like Ryan guiding a hike through the adjacent park trail system to an urban treehouse for discussions and debate as we walk-and-talk. Or working side-by-side, under direction of Duron Chavis, at our neighboring Community Garden which provides urban agriculture opportunities for the area, while also providing vegetables and herbs for Kendra Feather’s award winning Laura Lee’s restaurant that hosts dinners for our guests at the restaurant or the Market at Canvas. As you would expect, our compostables from Canvas go directly to the community garden - we’re as closed loop as possible.
Most recently, we added an Airstream Basecamp trailer to the mix. Parked in the Courtyard, the trailer can be used as additional breakout meeting space, or a catering and equipment vehicle when we take groups out onto the trails.
It’s not quite Camp David or Chequers, but in a grounded way, we’ve replicated the aspects of those elite retreat locations to create a cost-effective environment for your leadership team for meaningful collaboration. We want your boards and your leadership teams meeting here.
Designed By Those Who Seek Meaningful Meetings
There is no shortage of innovative meeting spaces, motivational speakers, or meeting facilitators out there. Arguably, there are too many. Canvas was born almost of accident… of a desire from some groups to do fewer superficial games and more meaningful exercises… to hear less of “you can do anything” to “here’s how we can all grapple with this”… to focus less on the latest tech gimmick at a venue and more on the meaning of the human interaction. We believe that our clients will continue to shape us and hope that they do. Canvas is a woman-owned business headquartered in Virginia, though our work increasingly spreads across North America, Europe, and Asia. We’d love to hear your thoughts.