Feeding the World With Empty Bowls

At first glance, the Empty Bowls studio in Burnsville, NC appears to be just another site enriching Yancey County’s vibrant local art scene. However, upon talking to its founders, Lisa Blackburn and John Hartom, it was clear there’s much more behind the clay, wheels, and drying racks full of bowls found in the little studio. In the beautiful mountains of Burnsville, right next to the Yancey Dig In! Community Garden, a grassroots movement to fight hunger around the world was born.

Empty Bowls grew out of Imagine Render, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that “strives to create positive and lasting social change through the arts, education, and projects that build community.” After visiting the studio and learning about the multitude of events sparked by this one idea, I would describe Empty Bowls as not just a local project, but as a global movement to bring people together in fighting hunger.

The image of an empty bowl says it all, relaying a strong image of hunger here in the US and abroad. Interested churches, schools, community groups, and nonprofit organizations coordinate with local artists to commission bowls, which are used to host a fundraising banquet to feed the hungry. Each event is locally driven and the funds are directed independently to areas of need identified by the community. Empty Bowls events have spread from North Carolina and the Southeast across the nation and around the world.  The Empty Bowls website lists 17 known events planned for October alone, with many groups making the fundraisers an annual tradition.


Watch this short video that CNN did on Empty Bowls to learn more (http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/12/world/iyw-how-to-help-hunger/index.html)


Because of their flexibility, encouragement of community engagement, and impactful message, Empty Bowls events grew from a local idea to a thriving grassroots movement that is raising money to fight hunger in at least a dozen countries. Imagine Render encourages the free adoption of the Empty Bowls idea, only asking that each event carry the same Empty Bowls name and be inclusive, managed with integrity, and focused on education.


If you would like to learn more about the organization or how to host your own Empty Bowls event, please click here.

 The post has been contributed by Becky Dobosy, an undergraduate research assistant working Michelle Schroeder-Moreno at North Carolina State University.