Creating Common Cround
A conversation with Larry Richard
by Max Eternity
Blending philanthropy with the visual arts and environmental concerns, Larry Richard has a long-standing career in bringing interested parties together through his own style of innovative marketing strategies. A humanist, naturalist and entrepreneur, Richard is the founder of Common Ground, a non-profit organization whose motto is “Merging art and Digital Media for a Healthy Planet.”
Richard says the organization helps artists and the environment in three ways: raising visibility and awareness in the media, selling books and prints then donating part of those funds to other environmental groups, with the third way being what he calls “leveraging corporate social responsibility”
First envisioned in 2004 and formally organized in 2007, Richard launched the Common Ground International Touring Exhibition in 2008. That exhibition and presentation was first shown in Beijing, coinciding with the Summer Olympics held there that same year.
Selected from a pool of over 1000 international artists, 40 artists were been chosen to participate in the show, which makes its way to Los Angeles next month–opening at the A & I Gallery on July 8th.
Max Eternity (ME): Hi Larry
Larry Richard (LR): Hi Max
ME: In 2008 we met online through an arts organization you founded, Common Ground (CG). You had a call-to-artist for an exhibition in China. I submitted a work and was accepted with a group of about 100 artists from 40 countries. Tell me about vision for Common Ground—why you created it?
LR: Sure, back in 2004 I was approached by the Americans for Graphic Art (AIGA) who knew of my background in promoting events, some of which had to do with technology and art. They came together with AIGA realizing that I have an interest in the cross-section of the visual arts and technology. The asked how would you feel about working with us to help artists in Cuba and the US who would use the internet to share their dream—their perspective across the divide–being so close yet so far away?
They asked for ideas, and asked if I could go to Cuba. They said sure, and I said…I’m in. I connected with the idea of increasing communication between art in the US and Cuba, with an event called Shared Dreams, part of the Cuban digital design exhibition in 2004/05/06. One of my ideas was to bring that concept to the US, and was told I couldn’t do that because the Bush administration would shut you right down.
I said I wanted to show art, and cleared some hurdles and we brought the exhibition to the US, selling posters (unsigned prints) donating the money to a non-profit that supports Cuban artist world wide.
It was at that moment when I realized that I could bring artists together despite all the boundaries. If I could do that, I would bring artists together to work on the environment, starting Common Ground in 2007. The positive response was overwhelming.
ME: “Merging art and Digital Media for a Healthy Planet” is the Common Ground motto. Tell me some ways, this is achieved.
LR: Well, in 3 ways. The most important ways is raising visibility and awareness in the media—a group of artist can have an impact to have a much larger visibility in the press. The second: through the sale of books and proceeds from the prints, donating money directly to 3 different non-profit organizations, World Wildlife Fund, Global Giving, and the Global Environmental Institute in China. The third way is something I’m calling leveraging corporate social responsibility. By that I mean for example, with Hewlett Packard as a supporter, we’re able to leverage directives given by almost every fortune 500 corporate board. Every one has a core directive–a corporate social reasonability directive, because every corporation wants to be seen as good corporate citizens demonstrating to shareholders and the public that they are good stewards. So we use that that leverage to offer them an opportunity to be that by supporting CG—technology and the environment by giving us the ability to have a platform.
We give artist a way to express themselves about the environment, and give corporations a way to prove their good corporate citizenship.
ME: And about yourself, where did you grow up?
LR: In Los Angeles
ME: Were environmental concerns always important to you, and who influenced you in this direction?
LR: Yes, being a Californian I live at the beach. I have camped and hiked my entire life. I’ve been a longtime supporter of environmental organizations for many, many years. For most of my adult life I’ve been passionate about the environment. One of the reasons that galvanized my passion was when I had a granddaughter–to imagine my going camping with them, going to the beach. It would be such a loss to not have them experience the passion for a clean environment that I feel. If I can do anything to make sure they have clean rivers, oceans, skies and food. I’ll do all I can. They are a good reason to make me maintain my passion about the environment.
ME: Before CG, you were experienced in organizing for various causes and missions?
LR: Two things: back in 1996 I produced an exposition trade show here in LA called Online Expo. Think back, most of us had no idea about what the World Wide Web was to become. But, I knew it was about to explode. So I gathered corporate sponsors like Sun, ADM and Microcenter and rented an L.A. convention center to create the event. 35,000 people attended. We were talking about what the online world would be like for business and the consumer. That was my introduction to producing an event that had to do with technology, bringing that to the public.
Many years before that, I produced a touring exhibition of photography back in 1989-1992, called the Fine Art Collection of Dezo Hoffmann. His claim to fame was he was the personal private photographer to the Beetles. This was way before digital. The original negatives were owned by his family that had passed to someone in Australia. I went and negotiated rights to have the North American rights for distribution for signed and certified prints for this exhibition.
That’s the background that brought it all together.
ME: I see so much overlap happening these days—artists becoming entrepreneurs, community organizers becoming environmental activists, writers becoming publishers and so forth. Is this something you observe as well; a new more dynamic business model?
LR: I guess the word overlap is good. Another word might be multiple-income streams, because, it’s not enough in this day and age to be an entrepreneur. It’s also about using that ability to identify a product or service to make money, and accomplish other good things…raising awareness. And money then gets donated for other good products.
If I can accomplish this, leveraging my talent and expertise while making money, and artists get to make money while donating some proceeds to environmental organizations, that makes a perfect storm for a good way to use my life, right for my own desk. I would never have thought 20 years ago that this would have been possible—integrating passion with my work.
Me Larry, thanks for your time.
LE: I’m very grateful that you took the time to speak with me.