Faith Wilkerson wants to show you how to have a good time while helping to revitalize downtown.
She does this through monthly events such as Brunch on the Plaza, Cocktails and Choreo and the Silent Headphone Party, all produced by UnlockingRVA, the event planning and promotional company she started in 2016.
As a student at VCU, Wilkerson worked full-time managing many of the university's annual event traditions and in 2019, accepted the role of program director for the Minority Education Center housed within the VCU School of Education.
In addition to helping clients plan events – food festivals, galas, conferences – Wilkerson creates events that celebrate local businesses. “My goal is to bridge the gap between residents and the things they don’t know about,” she explains. “When you come to an UnlockingRVA event, everything is bookable: the band, the DJ, the vendors, the food truck, even the space.”
Creative new practices were in order once the pandemic hit. Open mic nights switched to a virtual platform on Instagram live, attracting viewers in Richmond and further afield. Next came conversations with business owners about how to pivot. “People were starved for activities, so we had to create opportunities for them to reconnect in safer spaces using family and friend bubbles,” she recalls. “At our Silent Headphone parties, people were 10 to 20’ apart, but they could raise a glass and dance from a distance, which made them feel comfortable.”
To help the city revitalize Kanawha Plaza, Wilkerson created Brunch on the Plaza. With locally owned food trucks on site and a DJ curating the vibe, people were invited to picnic in the middle of the city, complete with stellar views. Attendance at the Sunday afternoon event has grown from roughly hundred originally to about 500. “The challenge is increasing attendance,” Wilkerson notes. “Do we move to Brown’s Island or block streets off to accommodate a larger crowd?”
Most important, while producing events, UnlockingRVA is helping businesses promote themselves. “We’re able to serve as a platform for smaller voices,” she says. “It’s also our way of offering residents the keys to the city.”