The Door County community generously supports a wealth of arts organizations, as well as many vital health and human services organizations, but it isn’t often that the paths of these two groups cross. There have been a few notable exceptions, and the annual SOUP! project of Peninsula School of Art is one. This unique event involves the community outreach programs of the school and benefits the hunger-relief efforts of Feed My People of Door County.
Nearly 10 years ago, the Peninsula School of Art board and staff began to explore ideas to bring accessible arts programming to the Door County community. Recognizing that many year-round residents and families do not have the financial means to pursue an interest in the arts and that federal and state funding of arts programs had significantly declined, Peninsula School of Art responded with the development of the Community Outreach Program. Today, the program provides free art education experiences to over 1,000 school age children, families and other under-served groups.
Feed My People of Door County, on the other hand, has been working to relieve hunger in our community since 1982. Based in Sturgeon Bay, Feed My People was initially designed to meet only emergency needs. With nearly one in 15 Door County residents living below the poverty level, the number of program recipients and scope of services offered has increased. Today, as a member of the Second Harvest program, they operate a food pantry that provides a two-week supply of non-perishable food items, as well as fresh milk, eggs, and meats to program participants.
The SOUP! project began in the fall of 2006 as an idea proposed by Peninsula School of Art Community Relations Director, Cinnamon Rossman, and Ceramics Studio Manager, Chad Luberger, to bring the ceramic arts to a larger audience. It has grown to become a model for collaboration and fundraising between two non-profits that involves over 500 local school children and community members making ceramic bowls, 500 event attendees, 70 restaurant and individual soup donors, and 50 volunteers from Peninsula School of Art and Feed My People.
SOUP! is based on the Empty Bowls Project, an international, grassroots, crafts-based effort to end hunger. The Empty Bowls idea is simple. Participants create ceramic bowls, then serve a modest meal of soup and bread. Guests choose a bowl to use that day and to keep as a reminder that there are always empty bowls in the world. In exchange for the meal and bowl, guests give a suggested minimum donation. Proceeds from the lunch benefit a chosen hunger-relief organization.
Empty Bowl events have been held across the United States and Canada, and in New Zealand, Germany, Finland, England, and Hong Kong, raising tens of millions of dollars for organizations fighting hunger. The events have also raised public awareness about hunger and have provided students of all ages the chance to use art to create positive change in their own communities and beyond.
In November 2006, Peninsula School of Art christened the new event “SOUP!” and began contacting local schools, churches and community groups to participate in the bowl-making process. Over the last three years, participants have included Gibraltar Schools, St. Peter’s Lutheran School, St. Mary’s of Luxemburg, St. Mary’s of Algoma, Sturgeon Bay High School, Shepherd of the Bay Lutheran Church, Sister Bay Moravian Church, 4-H Club, Boys and Girls Club, and the Northern Door Girl Scouts.
“Each year we strive to create 500 bowls,” says Cinnamon Rossman, Community Relations Director. “Each bowl is a unique work of art that is created through a multi-step process. The students are very creative; some have made their bowls look like a flying pig, a turtle and even a bathtub.”
To make a bowl, slabs of clay are rolled and cut into 12-inch discs. Each “artist” uses a mold to form their disc of clay, creating the basic bowl shape. Then, they take clay to make the foot of the bowl, sometimes a simple ring or sometimes more inventive and complex like tripod legs. Next the artist decorates the outside of the bowl, using stamps or hand-drawn designs. The impressions of the stamps and drawings are sometimes detailed with a colored clay, called slip. After the bowls have dried, they are “bisque fired,” which makes them sturdier and porous enough to accept glaze. These bisque-fired bowls are then finished with glazes in a variety of colors and techniques. Some will be dipped or splattered, some will be decorated with detailed brushwork. After glazing, they are fired once again, giving them their final colorful, non-porous, glassy surface.
Throughout this process, students learn about the art of ceramics, but also they learn that they are part of a bigger project. They are creating something that will be sold to help members of their community who are in need and to give other students a chance to participate in art projects at the school. For many kids, it is their first opportunity to make a real contribution to their community.
Once the decision to go forward with the SOUP! project had been made, Peninsula School of Art needed to select a hunger-fighting organization to work with. “It was important for us to work with a local hunger-relief organization. Not only did we want the money raised to stay in Door County, but we believed the event would be more successful if we collaborated and shared the work of the project with another local non-profit,” said Rossman.
Feed My People of Door County agreed to partner with the school and take the lead in soliciting and picking up donations for the SOUP! lunch which typically takes place on the Saturday of Fish Creek’s Winterfest at the Peninsula School of Art. Restaurants including The Inn at Cedar Crossing, 3rd Avenue Café, Stone Harbor, Cherry Hills, White Gull Inn, Bayside Tavern, The Cookery, Greenwood Supper Club, English Inn, Alexander’s, AC Tap, Maxwelton Braes, Coyote Roadhouse, Harbor Fish Market, PC Junction, Peninsula Pub, Square Rigger, Culver’s and Weisgerber’s, as well as 40 or more individuals, have all made homemade soup for the event.
On the day of the SOUP! lunch, volunteers and staff set up tables in the school’s Guenzel Gallery to display the handmade bowls, and the soup buffet lunch is set up in an adjacent studio. Ten to 15 different soups are served at all times. Attendees include students with their parents, supporters of Feed My People and the school, visitors to Door County in town for Winterfest, community members and more. In 2007 and 2008, over 450 people attended the buffet lunch which runs from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm. Attendees give a donation of $15 per person for lunch and the bowl. To date the event has raised nearly $7,000 for Feed My People and $3,000 for the school’s Community Outreach Program.
In addition to the event revenue, the Peninsula School of Art has received matching gifts from Thrivent Financial and grant support from the Kohler Foundation and the Wisconsin Arts Board, as well as individual contributions to underwrite the costs of time and materials to create the bowls.
The SOUP! project has proven that two organizations with distinctly different missions can find a common purpose and a shared audience to raise funds and create awareness of one another’s programs.