The concept for “Empty Bowls” started in the early 90’s with Bloomfield Hills, Michigan high school students and their art teacher, John Hartom.
In an effort to help out with the local food drive they threw, decorated and fired 120 bowls. The school’s staff was invited to the cafeteria to select a bowl and enjoy a simple meal of soup and bread. John and his wife, Lisa Blackburn, talked to the staff about hunger in their community, thanked them for their cash donations and then asked them to take their bowls home with them as a reminder of those with empty bowls. There are now “Empty Bowls” projects all over the world.
The Austin Empty Bowl Project (AEBP) was the first of its kind in Texas, founded in 1997 by Kit Adams, the owner of ClayWays Pottery Studio & Gallery. Each year, AEBP has grown in participation by both donors and attendees and, with the help of our generous community, we have raised more than $900,000.
(Note: The following is a description by John Hartom of the first Empty Bowls.)
“The Bloomfield Hills Schools annual Food Drive was underway and falling short of expectations, leaving the district Community Service Coordinator looking for ways to make up the shortfall. I told her my Ceramics students could help. I had absolutely no idea how but it seemed like a good idea. My wife, Lisa Blackburn and I decided to challenge my students to make enough ceramic bowls to host a meal for the staff at the local High School. They enthusiastically agreed to help and by collaborating threw 120 bowls, decorated the bowls and assisted with the firings. On the day of the luncheon, the students washed the bowls and set up a beautiful display in the media center. They put all of the bowls on one table so each staff member could select one for the simple meal of soup and bread. Students collected the donations, served the soup and helped straighten up the room. At the conclusion of the meal, Lisa and I shared with the participants information about hunger in our community, thanked each person for their cash donation and asked each of them to keep the empty bowl they had selected as a reminder of all the empty bowls in the world.
Silence fell over the room as everyone immediately felt the power of their bowl as a metaphor for hunger in the world. Tears were evident on many faces. Bowls were clutched to chests. The arts had, as is often the case, served in a powerful way to transform. It was magic—absolute magic! We knew something amazing happened. It was apparent that we had been presented with an amazing gift and a great responsibility. What we thought would be a one-time event would not end there. We pledged to share this incredible tool with others.”