Empty Bowls: Made In China for Corporate Engagement

Strange headline?  Well, yes, I agree.  Many potters donate bowls to Empty Bowls programs, which tend to be benefits where potters donate bowls, restaurants/chefs donate soup and bread, and people make a donation to eat soup out of a bowl that they then keep.  Empty Bowls programs traditionally benefit food banks and other hunger-related programs.

The Capitol Area Food Bank has been a recipient of my bowls for many years, since my time living in DC.  A few weeks ago, I received an email from the CAFB, and this is what it said:

“Hi Joy,

The Capital Area Food Bank is starting an exciting new corporate engagement effort that will expose the work of one lucky artist to thousands across the Washington metro area.

As a way to expand the much loved Empty Bowls concept, we are inviting our top local artisans that we have worked with in the past to submit a design for a bowl that will be entered into the Empty Bowls Challenge.  We will select a winner, which will be mass-produced and then sold to our partners in the corporate community.  Companies will give their employees the chance to purchase a replica of the winning bowl, and the proceeds will go to the food bank.

Would you be interested in submitting a design? Please let me know if this sounds like an opportunity you’d like to get involved with.

Many thanks,

Now, I couldn’t resist responding for clarification, which came back as:

“Thanks for your feedback.  The bowls would be mass produced in China, and the artist would not be paid for their design.

 Let me know if this is helpful information.  I understand your reservations, and I hope to work with you for future Empty Bowls events!



To be clear, CAFB will continue to have artisan-made bowls for their Empty Bowls.  Always have, and hopefully always will.  This is a new initiative, focusing on reaching out to coprorate entities.  (thanks for the clarification by phone, CAFB!)

As for this new initiative, I realize that there are probably ceramic artists who would love to have their work reproduced in China, but I am not one of them. I love to ‘re’-produce my own work.  In my mind, a production potter designs their own form, produces it in large or small runs, and is often paid a ‘wholesale’ price for their work, which then sold retail, whether for a business or for a non-profit.   As an artist potter, I make work in smaller series, but have, on occasion, made larger runs for good reasons.

My work, mass produced in China? No way.  Is my strong reaction old-fashioned?  Am I missing something?  Is there really a benefit here that I am not seeing?  What’s the story here?