"Empty Bowls" was an idea that developed by a high school art teach in Michigan. In 1990, the project began to help support food pantries, soup kitchens, and other agencies that combat the serious problem of hunger in communities. He had his class make ceramic bowls that were used to serve soup and bread at a fundraising dinner. Guests were invited to take the bowl with them as a reminder of those who suffered from hunger and it effects. This past October,I organized an Empty Bowls dinner to raise over $1,500 for the Christian Rescue Center, Anderson, Indiana's local soup kitchen and rescue shelter. Although the dinner was the climax of the project, its most significant aspect was that it enabled over 300 individuals to participate and become artists in the process of making ceramic bowls.
Participants, who ranged from children to older adults, were asked to “paint” an unfired bowl with colored slip. Often times children would tell me that art was the favorite subject in school and adults would admit that they had not done anything like this in years. Some college students carried on a conversation about how relaxing it was and admitted that they wish they could do it everyday. Those who continued to walk on by the table, that was set up at local farmers markets, street fairs, coffee shops, without stopping would claim that no one would want the bowl they made.
While I am unaware of the specific impact this process had on the participants, I was surprised by something I never had anticipated: While those under the age of eleven typically seemed very pleased with their finished product, most older children and adults would sheepishly criticize their creation as they handed it to me. However, on the night of the dinner a restorative process took place for the bowl and artist in that a guest would choose a bowl that the artist had said no one would want or was thought of as unfit. In the choosing, both bowl and artist were validated.
The most amazing part of this project was that it not only brought a transformation to those who benefited from the monetary sales of the bowls. But that it used art, which is too often cast aside as childish, to positively effect and bring together an entire community in accomplishing the task of feeding the hungry.