A hammerhead swims alongside a diver. A seahorse, anglerfish, and cluster of jellyfish weave through a vibrant coral reef teeming with sea life. In what would otherwise be a nondescript wall facing a parking lot in Toronto, casual passersby pause to admire the mural—a collaborative work by street artists birdO and GETSO. 

And in San Diego, there’s a mural depicting hyper-colored purple and orange sharks. The quad of hammerheads and great whites bear pained expressions. The number “100 million”—which is the staggering number of sharks killed each year for the shark fin soup trade—looms in the background. 

These murals are part of the Sea Walls: Artists for Oceans project. To date, the Sea Walls project has created over 350 murals and more than 250 artists in 15 countries.

These are collaborative endeavors with artists, local organizations, and governments in different parts of the world.

PangeaSeed Foundation’s origins.

Founded in 2012 by Tre’ Packard, PangeaSeed Foundation is an “artvism” non-profit that combines art and nature conservation. Its tagline, “A drop of paint can create an ocean of change,” speaks volumes to the foundation’s mission and reach. 

The Truth About Starting Your Own Non-Profit
©Tre’ Packard | PangeaSeed Foundation 2019.

Packard grew up in Carlsbad, a coastal city in Southern California. He started diving and became interested in underwater photography at the age of twelve. He developed a fascination and love for sharks—it was the 1980s and the media portrayed sharks as ruthless, malicious maneaters. (Think: Jaws).

During the time there was a shift in revealing the importance of these animals and ecosystems, says Packard. “Sharks are incredibly important for the ocean ecosystem as a controlling agent and apex predator,” explains Packard, who has the luxury of getting in the water with sharks. “But they’re there for a reason. They’re essential for the health of the ocean.” 

While 100 million sharks are killed each year for their fins, fewer than five people die from shark-related incidents per year. “There’s a programmed fear of an animal that we don’t know that much about,” explains Packard. 

Packard felt compelled to do something on a greater scale and organized his first group art show. Taking place in Tokyo, it featured the works of fifty artists and drew attention to ocean conservation. 

Packard was in Sri Lanka for a project documenting the trade of manta rays, when he experienced another epiphany: Not everyone is going to experience pop-up art shows and galleries. 

He wanted to take it to the streets by creating large-scale public art in the form of murals.  “Galleries are places where people can afford art,” says Packard. “I realized quite quickly the public really needed these messages. When you bring it to the community, it’s going to have a longer-lasting impact.” 

But as one might imagine, it’s not easy to launch and run an artvism organization such as PangeaSeed Foundation. We’ll pull back the curtain to reveal exactly what it takes.

Be prepared to run a tight ship.

The PangeaSeed Foundation has been good at expanding its reach, reaping many of the benefits of a large organization. The reality? Now in its 7th year, it’s primarily run by its two sole full-time employees, Packard and Akira Biondo, who is PangeaSeed Foundation’s director of operations. The husband and wife team work around the clock, seven days a week. 

Packard describes their work as a love-hate relationship, as there is no separation between their personal and professional life. How to create that balance? It’s challenging.

Get used to asking for money.

Ironically, while PangeaSeed Foundation relies on financial support from grants, private funding, and donations to stay afloat, Packard admittedly hates asking for money. 

With the Sea Walls project, the goal is to complete one flagship project per quarter (a flagship project might consist of a large mural peppered with a number of smaller-scale murals). It typically takes anywhere from 12 to 18 months for a project to come to fruition. And depending on the location and scope, costs roughly $100,000 to $150,000 per project. That’s certainly not chump change. Oftentimes, one cannot wait for the full funding to be in place to move forward, and that comes with its own set of risks. 

The Truth About Starting Your Own Non-Profit
©Tre’ Packard | PangeaSeed Foundation 2019.

“There’s nothing sexy about fundraising,” laughs Packard. “It demands a lot of time and attention, and you have to get used to asking people for money and consistently being rejected. You’ll need to develop ‘shark skin,’ so to speak, and not take it personally.” 

PangeaSeed Foundation also earns some money through the release of monthly, limited-run prints featuring artists. It’s also a way for their thriving community of fans, followers, and advocates to get involved. Another added bonus: these special print runs create dialogue between the artists, the foundation, and supporters. 
Those who are interested in supporting PangeaSeed Foundation can do so in a number of ways: shopping on its online store; making a monetary donation; or by submitting a proposal.

Unknown challenges abound.

Because their projects happen in different places around the world with different artists, agencies, and personnel, Packard describes it like the circus coming to town: “There’s a bunch of color and energy, and because there’s no blueprint, we’re continually experimenting and developing.”

With no single, pre-cooked blueprint, there are often new challenges and logistics to account for. Packard and Akira reach out to locals who can claim a stake in the project—artists, scientists, researchers, nonprofits in the area, as well as government officials. 

You’ll need to take calculated risks and embrace failure.

For all the growth and successes that PangeaSeed Foundation has experienced, it’s also had a fair share of tanked projects.

There have been times when they’ve devoted months to a project, only for it to fall completely apart. During those darker moments, Packard relies on his support network of trusted friends and colleagues he can talk to. 

“These are people with similar growing pains, who have carved their own paths,” says Packard. “I can talk to them about anything, and I can be as vulnerable as I want to be. There’s no judgment, only love and support. 

“The connections you build around the world are just priceless,” he adds. “They keep you going internally. You are never going to grow unless you take risks and learn to fail,” says Packard. You’ve got to fail to some degree in order to succeed—that’s part of the process.” 

Instead of seeing failure as a sign to give up, Packard analyzes what went wrong and what could be done differently the next time around. “Failure is part of life,” adds Packard. “But so many people have great ideas and fail once, and it traumatizes them so badly they won’t do it again. But what’s important is to be vulnerable, honest, and have passion.”

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