BENNINGTON — For most people, bowls are for eating cereal or soup, but for the "Empty Bowls Soup Supper" they're meant to represent the issue of food insecurity on a local and national scale. This year, students at Bennington College will reflect on that symbolism and more in anticipation of the annual event.
"Social Kitchen: Ceramics, Food and Community" is a four-credit course taught by multidisciplinary artist and part-time faculty member Yoko Inoue, in which students will learn about "creative community engaged practices" as well as the issue of food insecurity in Bennington County and beyond. There are 16 enrolled with a waiting list. Several Saturday workshops have been established for the community to come to the college and work on ceramic bowls for the future supper, Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services (GBIC) Executive Director Sue Andrews said.
"This food security issue is really applied to all of us," Inoue said. "Where [the students] are coming from might differ in terms of class, race or geographical regions, countries, I thought it was a very important issue to bring out so that they don't dissociate themselves saying, 'Yeah we're doing this thing for the town.' No it is not, we're doing this for us, for everybody."
In the past, the ceramic bowls have been made at Willow Park, but then would have to be transported back and forth to a kiln, with the risk of breaking a few bowls. Andrews connected with Inoue, who will teach the art and community course, about using the college's ceramic studio. As she's interested in food insecurity, she decided to implement the course.
Inoue is from Kyoto, Japan, and generates art installations associated with social sciences. She came to the U.S. during the 1990s, a time when the two countries had a rocky trade relationship.
"[Thinking about] how this big motive impacts our foodscape, economy, political stance and local economy, the way of life, and national security," she said. "For example, we lose the land then people move away, you know Japan is a chain of islands, so we have a remote island. This could be in conflict of other countries. People don't really like food conservation with the land and national security issues. Those are interesting things for me to think."
At one point, Inoue's political and visual arts mind was separate. That changed when she attended a three-month residency in New Mexico in 2014 at the Santa Fe Art Institute where food was used as a statement to solve or spread awareness about local insecurity issues.
The Saturday workshops at Bennington College will allow up to 20 people and the goal is to produce 500 to 600 bowls for the event. Currently, Andrews has about 300 bowls that were donated from various ceramic programs in the area. She added that the practice of making a bowl can be done by anyone from age 3 to 93.
All soup and bread for the dinner is donated by local restaurants and shops and some bowls are donated while most are made in the town, by townspeople. In November, folks can pay $10 for an advanced ticket or $12 at the door to get a small ceramic bowl, eat soup out of it and take the bowl home as a reminder of those suffering from hunger.
All money goes toward the local Kitchen Cupboard which has distributed about half a million pounds of food, including 20 tons of local organic produce and another 10 tons of fresh regional produce annually. It serves one in five families in Bennington.
"Empty Bowls" is a nonprofit that has fed people internationally since 1990. It's a grassroots effort to fundraise and spread awareness on the fight to end hunger, according to its website.
On Sept. 10, 24, Oct. 8, 22, 29, and Nov. 11 from 2 to 5 p.m. community members will be able to interact with the students in the course.
Instead of serving as a charity to the event, Inoue wants to make it clear that this is a skillshare project.
"Everyone has a mental communal space and the good part about it is the time to casually converse and create dialogue," she said.
The first day of class was held on Aug. 31 and she made it clear to students that this wouldn't be a one-time thing but an ongoing partnership and that students would have to devote time on Saturdays to engage with potential strangers. The class is open to all ages and skill sets. Inoue said there's a good balance between social science students and ceramic students.
For more information, contact Sue Andrews at 802-379-0149 or at email@example.com
— Contact Makayla-Courtney McGeeney 802-490-6471.