Press releases are posted on Independent.com as a free community service.
SANTA BARBARA – Established in Santa Barbara in 2018, The Common Table Foundation emerged during the aftermath of the debris flow tragedy. Its mission, “Bringing us together, to celebrate all that we have in common,” serves as a simple antidote to the chronic isolation, loneliness, and divisiveness of our time. The nonprofit organization promotes authentic dialogue among people of diverse backgrounds as the essential building block of a healthy democracy. Today, the Common Table Foundation welcomes Warren Ritter as the successor to its founding executive director Todd Capps.
The first Common Table event was held on a summer evening in July of 2018, on the sports field of Montecito Union School, several months after the debris flow. Weeks prior, a flyer had circulated throughout the community announcing, “Our Common Table – An outdoor gathering of neighbors sharing a meal at one continuous table in the heart of Montecito. No program. No politics. No speeches. Just food (pot-luck), music, and fellowship.” At 5:30pm, the start of the event, a handful of folks began gathering at the long table. By 6:00pm, over 400 people from all backgrounds across the community were breaking bread together.
Over the next 18 months, a total of 7 Common Table events took place between Carpinteria and Isla Vista, including “Common Table Eastside” and “Common Table on The Mesa.” Each event was the result of interest and outreach on the part of residents in the particular area. The culminating event was “Common Table – The Art of Community” on the 500 block of State St., which featured live performances and presentations from 10 culturally diverse music acts, poets, and dancers, and was attended by over 1000 folks. By then, the City of Santa Barbara had become a partner with Common Table, managing the street closures. In addition to its flagship program, the Common Table Foundation hosted 5 additional public events during that time under its “Coffee Conversations” and “United By Art” programs, which share similar community-building goals based on the fundamental commonalities that unite neighbors of diverse backgrounds.
The pandemic forced a pause to Common Table Foundation’s planned agenda of outdoor programming. The organization initially pivoted though, hosting a virtual United By Art event that April, “The Art of Community – Apart Together,” an online music festival featuring live performances by locally-based artists, such as Dishwalla, Glen Phillips, Tina Schlieske, Tariqh Akoni, and an acoustic performance by champion surfer Kelly Slater, who was in Australia at the time. The event reached an audience of over 30,000 people.
Later in 2020, the organization’s founding chair Hal Conklin began medical treatment for a brain tumor. He passed the following summer. Hal was a preeminent visionary and champion of the organization and its mission. In his words, “Sitting down for a meal together is one of the most essential ways to bridge divisions, build community, and deepen understanding.” His passing served to galvanize the organization toward advancing a new era of community-building programming in honor of Hal’s legacy. His widow Haley Conklin is now a member of the board.
When founding executive director Todd Capps recently stepped down to pursue another locally-based venture (uncoincidentally also connected to Hal Conklin), the Common Table Foundation found a successor in Warren Ritter, a political and financial consultant who co-founded Santa Barbara Young Black Professionals, one of the early sponsors of Common Table events. Warren accepted the role of executive director on an interim basis, with the opportunity to make the position permanent in coming months. Capps, who remains on the board of directors, remarked, “Along with the rest of the board, I am excited and grateful that my friend Warren will help lead the organization into a new chapter. Like Hal, Warren embodies what this mission is all about. He lives and breathes it, in his passion for the power of community, and in his warm personal approach to those around him – whether colleagues or strangers in line at the coffee shop.”
When asked for comment, Ritter responded, “I am so thrilled to step into the role of Executive Director for the Common Table Foundation. The work in bringing people together from different backgrounds is so imperative to all of our futures, now more than ever. I look forward to actively engaging our community in open dialogue, collaborative projects, and creating long-lasting partnerships.”
For more information on the Common Table Foundation, visit commontablefoundation.org.