Empty Bowls Inspires Community Involvement in Deadwood


Community members line up to receive their choice of soup at annual event in Deadwood.

DEADWOOD, S.D. – People around the country have roamed hungry for years. According to a national study, the reported number of homeless was just under 554,000 people in 2017. There have been thousands of programs to help, such as Empty Bowls. Empty Bowls started in the early 1990s and quickly became wide spread.


The smell of cheeseburger potato soup and the inviting sounds of entertainment roar into Deadwood streets from the upstairs venue. A line at the door, people eager to participate and do their part. One professor in Spearfish took up Empty Bowls as a grad student. He said, “I was studying art activism and that’s where I came across Empty Bowls.”


Mass communications professor, Jerry Rawlings, speaks about the history of the event to those in attendance.

Jerry Rawlings, a professor of mass communications at Black Hills State University has continued Empty Bowls for 12 years. He previously worked at the Salon 10 in Deadwood, the business below the venue for the event. Empty Bowls has been held in the Deadwood Social Club since it began.


The Deadwood Social club is located at 650 Main St, Deadwood, SD 57732. Owner, Louie LaLonde has played a large role in the event these last years. The business closes off a portion of their venue so that the event can occur while still maintaining their own business. Most people that come that night intending to eat at the social club end up participating in the cause.


“Without a doubt it’s one of the worthier causes a business can be involved in,” LaLonde said.


Empty Bowls was created as an initiative to end world hunger. Another purpose of this event is to get local community and artists involved. The original founders Lisa Blackburn and John Hartom combined what they both knew into one project. Hartom was the heart of the art and community involvement. He worked with his own ceramics students to make bowls for their event.


Since then, artists around the United States, Canada, and United Nations have begun developing their own string of Empty Bowl events. Rawlings was one of them.


High school students from both Lead-Deadwood and Spearfish contributed the majority of the bowls this year.

The goal was to get the community involved. The goal was to get students, teachers, children, family, and people of all ages involved aware of the situation. Any artist can contribute a bowl to the event to be sold.


“I think it’s important for people to be involved in their communities, and this has been such a positive experience for me through the years, I refuse to totally let it go,” Rawlings stated.


Taking a backseat on the project, Rawlings has begun to pass on more duties to the Lead-Deadwood Arts Center. He still plans on being involved but wants to do less of the project planning. Karen Everett is the executive director of this organization. She worked with the schools and private artists to obtain the bowls used in the event.


Everett mentioned, “The arts center likes to give back to the community through the arts, and this event fit our mission perfectly.”


A bowl from the event is $10 and you get to keep the homemade dish. There were bowls of all sizes, colors, and forms. With that purchase, you also receive unlimited bowls of soup.


Proceeds from all worldwide Empty Bowls events go to local homeless shelters. The proceeds from this year’s event went to Lord’s Cupboard and Spearfish Food Pantry. Approximately $4,000 was raised.


Shutterbuzz, a BHSU campus organization has a unique role in this event. Co-President, Sierra LaCroix has been involved with the event for the past three years. LaCroix is a junior and a triple major in special education, business education, and photography at BHSU.


LaCroix explained, “We set up all of the silent auction items, we jury the work, we matte and frame all of the work and we make sure everything is put together for the silent auction part. We also aid Jerry Rawlings with any extra help he needs with the process.”


The event is good exposure for new up and coming artists. It offers a small start to a great crowd. It is also a great way to immerse yourself into the community. LaCroix said, “I would definitely suggest anyone, and everyone get involved.”


Empty Bowls will continue for many years to come. The event will continue to impact community and help local shelters.


Rawlings said, “I like to call it a larger than life, living, breathing work of art.”



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