A tasty event that raises money for Vernon artists

Volunteers at Vernon Community Arts Centre have cooked up a unique fundraiser

clay bowls
The Empty Bowl fundraiser supports arts programming in Vernon. — Photo courtesy Vernon Community Arts Centre

While presenting an empty bowl and asking for more may not have initially worked for Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist character, the strategy is having significant success for the arts community in Vernon, B.C.

The annual Empty Bowl fundraising event, where attendees pick out a locally handmade bowl and fill it with Irish stew on St. Patrick’s Day (March 17) to the tune of live Irish music, raised roughly $5,000 in 2012. The event is hosted by the Vernon Community Arts Centre (VCAC) and all proceeds go to support youth and adult art programming in the area.

A creative way to keep programs running

According to Lynne Gayan, executive director of the Arts Council of the North Okanagan and the VCAC, the Empty Bowl was born as a result of provincial cutbacks to arts funding in 2009. 

“Vernon arts and cultural organizations and groups were affected by the cuts, which in turn impacted the community as a whole,” said Gayan. “Many groups came close to disbanding and many organizations had to downsize or cancel their community programs and events.”

However, Gayan said that “Vernon’s arts and cultural community had and will continue to have amazing support from volunteers who live in our municipality.”

To raise funds and keep community programs and events running, she said local potters and VCAC volunteers Jenny Diller and Gale Woodhouse presented a VCAC fundraiser idea—the Empty Bowl.

“The first Empty Bowl was cooked up around coffee one day when we were brainstorming ideas to raise funds for equipment we needed to grow pottery programs,” said Woodhouse. “We have a coffee area at the arts centre where users gather to discuss all sorts of things – the art they are working on, new projects, etc. 

“As the funds were needed specifically for the pottery area at that time, we felt it should be down to clay people to respond to the need,” she said, adding that the event has been scaled up since its inauguration in 2010 and now features bowls made by up to 20 potters who each make 10 to 20 bowls each.

The importance of the Vernon Community Arts Centre

Woodhouse said that while “it takes work to dig out the cultural gems in [the] community”, the VCAC is a gathering place for many artist and artisans in the area.

“When I first moved to Vernon over 10 years ago I looked specifically for a community arts base and found my heart place here at the VCAC,” she said. “It welcomes all artists from all genres working at any level and attracts some very talented and committed teachers who pass their skills on to the next generation of artists.”

And while Gayan said “the status of arts funding for 2013 is looking much brighter than in 2009,” she added that it is crucial to continue lobbying the government and advocating for ongoing support through events such as the Empty Bowl.

For more information on the upcoming Empty Bowl fundraiser, the centre’s gallery and member exhibition, or any other programs and events taking place at the centre, visit or call 250-542-6243.

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