Empty Bowls


In 1990 John Hartom and I co-founded the Empty Bowls project. It was a project of the Imagine Render Group, a 501c3 not for profit organization which we also co-founded.

The original premise for the first Empty Bowls event was simple. It grew out of a project with students in the high school ceramics classes that John was teaching. The students made bowls and hosted a meal of soup and bread for their faculty and staff. In exchange for the meal, recipients made a monetary donation to a local organization working to alleviate food insecurity. Participants kept the bowl as a symbolic reminder of the complex issues and systems that perpetuate food insecurity and also of their ability to play a part in addressing them.

Since that time, the Empty Bowls concept has spread throughout the United States and to numerous other countries raising millions of dollars for hunger relief and involving individuals, organizations, institutions and communities on a scale never imagined at the initial event.
Functioning in a way as an open source model, the project is decentralized with each participating organization taking responsibility for all aspects of their own events. Very little is prescribed: Call it Empty Bowls, educate guests about food insecurity, choose an organization working to feed people to receive the proceeds. Open to everyone, owned by no one. There is no centralized control of Empty Bowls. Events are easily tailored to the needs of communities and resources of organizers.

Anyone can participate regardless of means. Potters make bowls, volunteers wash dishes, ladle soup, promote the event.

Over the years, the significance of Empty Bowls has exceeded the raising of money. For many communities it has awakened an awareness of the complexity of food security, local need, and has been a focus around which people gather for a common purpose. 



Working Together Everyone Eats
2015 Johnson and Wales Culinary Arts Museum
Providence, RI

Working on behalf of the Imagine Render Group John Hartom, Nancy Jones, and I co-curated the 25th Anniversary Exibition of the Empty Bowls Project, Working Together Everyone Eats. Research and technical assistance was provided by Mark Boyd and Dana Moore. Exhibition design assistance was provided by the museum staff and text panel design was done by Johnson and Wales students.


Through stories, videos, bowls, and photographs, the exhibition examined and documented the depth and breadth of the Empty Bowls project throughtout the United States and other countries since its inception. Funding for the exhibition was provided by the Windgate Charitable Foundation.

The Imagine Render Group closed in 2018. The Empty Bowls project continues to grow.

The Imagine Render Empty Bowls archives are housed at the Bentley Historical Library on the University of Michigan campus in  Ann Arbor, Michigan.





























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