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Art&Seek Q&A: Sayeda Mahler

by Stephen Becker 18 Feb 2010 12:05 PM

Sayeda Mahler is the Director of Cause Marketing for North Texas Food Bank and the person charged with organizing Empty Bowls, an event at which the visual and culinary arts come together to feed the hungry. She talks about the intersection of the arts and charity as part of this week’s Art&Seek Q&A:


Empty Bowls BCA 018

On Friday, local artisans are pitching in to help the North Texas Food Bank and Tarrant Area Food Bank feed the hungry. Thousands of handmade bowls were donated for the Empty Bowls events, which will be held in Forth Worth at Will Rogers Memorial Center and Dallas at the Meyerson Symphony Center. The concept is simple – pay $35 at the door, pick out the bowl that grabs your attention and fill it with soups, breads and desserts from North Texas restaurants and grocery stores.

The Fort Worth event is already sold-out, but tickets remain for the Dallas version. Sayeda Mahler is the Director of Cause Marketing for NTFB and the person charged with organizing the event – including securing all of those fancy bowls. She talks about the intersection of arts and charity as part of this week’s Art&Seek Q&A:

Art&Seek: How do you find the artists who contribute bowls?

Sayeda Mahler: We actually work with a wonderful couple named John and Darlene Williams – they actually started Empty Bowls in Dallas. They are both potters, and they basically ask all of their potter friends from around the DFW area to donate bowls to the great event that we have. … We get about 3,000 bowls just in Dallas from local artisans, whether their wood-turners, or their into ceramics – just beautiful bowls that are donated by them to benefit the event.

A&S: Wow, 3,000 – that’s unbelievable. How do you gauge how many bowls you need for the event?

S.M.: We typically have for the Dallas event that benefits North Texas Food Bank about 1,500 guests. So we usually have enough bowls, but we do have a few left over, and so we just keep replenishing year to year. Because Empty Bowls is actually a national event, a lot of the bowls that we get are actually from other states as well. There might be an Empty Bowls in their city, so there’s a lot of trading that goes on. The potter community is very close-knit and they know everyone, so they really look forward to the event every year.

A&S: So what’s it like when those first few people are through the doors? I would imagine there’s some jockeying for bowls.

S.M.: It’s exciting. We have our regular Empty Bowlers, who probably get there about 10:30 that morning – the event starts at 11 – so they’re lined up with their ticket in-hand, excited to see which bowls have arrived this year. They look for their favorite bowls, and I know that there are some people who have been going since inception, which was 11 years ago, so they have 11 different bowls that they can say they got at the event.

A&S: Do you recall any particularly interesting bowls in the years that you’ve held this event?

S.M.: You know, we have lots of different kinds of bowls – some people even make platters or plates. And we have a silent auction, where we gather the best of the best. But what I think is really exciting is it’s such a grassroots effort. A lot of high schools in the area, their students will make bowls and donate them to the event. And then the students will come to the event to look for their bowl and see who’s buying their bowl and go up to meet them.

A&S: Why do you think it is that artists are always so willing to help out with charitable events like this?

S.M.: I think they’re just so willing to give back to the community. North Texas Food Bank has been very fortunate to have such wonderful partners and donors. When they hear the story of hunger and hear that there is hunger in North Texas – especially with the kids … it’s hard to take in. I think it really hits close to home because it’s something that you can really appreciate and understand. We all know what it’s like to be hungry. When your stomach is aching, it’s hard for you to learn, it’s hard for you to work, it’s hard for you to function. It’s a cause that’s hard to argue about – it’s not political. It’s a basic need.

A&S: This is the 11th year. How much does the event typically bring in for NTFB?

S.M.:  The event typically raises about $150,000 for the Food Bank, which actually translates into about 600,000 meals. It’s one of our most popular fundraising events through the year. … It’s just a great opportunity for people of all ages to come together and enjoy what we call, “the best lunch deal in town.”

The Art&Seek Q&A is a weekly discussion with a person involved in the arts in North Texas. Check back next Thursday for another installment.