To see one of the ways the Welcome Project connects with the Camp Washington community, just take a walk by the Colerain Avenue building. There is a colorfully painted "take what you need" fridge outside.
After spending a few minutes inside the space and chatting with the staff members and volunteers, it becomes clear just how far, and how deep, that involvement goes.
The Welcome Project focuses on working with immigrant and refugee communities in Cincinnati through art and food. The program not only provides a place to share and cherish culture but to connect with others who share similar life experiences. And its tailored to help the Camp Washington community, too.
What does the Welcome Project do?
Erika NJ Allen is the Welcome Project's interim director, as well as an artist herself. While she's currently attending graduate school for ceramics – a love she acquired while working with the project – she returned for the summer.
"Food itself is an art form," Allen said. "Building bridges through food, it's so important ... Sitting around a table and providing nourishment to your body, coming from someone, a chef, that cooks with love."
And building that bridge for people who have immigrated to the United States is especially important, Allen said.
In the current space, the project houses a storefront selling goods created by artists in the immigrant community and a commercial kitchen for helping chefs prepare larger amounts of their signature dishes. Many began their cooking careers as home chefs and, with assistance from the Welcome Project, are able to cater large events.
It also hosts a gallery space that houses the Welcome (M)Art program, created by an artist in residence, as well as other events. The current exhibition by Christopher Leitch centers around cooking from memory, with maps of each continent on a large wall, a string connecting art pieces, representing cuisine from around the world to Cincinnati at the center of the piece. Allen's drawing is pinned on Guatemala and linked to Cincinnati.
A theme of 'together'
The theme of Leitch's work speaks to the main goal of the Welcome Project: bringing people, their art, cooking and culture together.
The Welcome Project stretches across multiple programs and partnerships. One of the most recent additions is the Camp Washington Farmers Market, working with the Camp Washington Urban Revitalization Corporation to provide access to fresh produce in the neighborhood.
Also popular is Cincinnati's Table, a dinner held in different communities that brings together immigrants and their communities. International cuisine made by chefs who have immigrated is on the table, and the dinners are based on a different theme each time.
Madeline Ndambakuwa is the farmers market coordinator for the Welcome Project, in addition to being an artist and chef who has worked within the program. She recalls one Cincinnati's Table event at Cincinnati State where she shared cuisine from Zimbabwe, cooking peanut butter squash.
"One of the local chefs is now using that for a pie," Ndambakuwa said. "From an immigrant perspective, it really helps us to find a place where we can share our own stories, but where we also feel at home."
When Ndambakuwa first came to the United States, she came with her understanding of art galleries in Zimbabwe, which work differently here. The Welcome Project made the process easier for her, she said, and it provided her with other opportunities to share and connect.
"When people think of immigration, they think of immigration and assimilation," Ndambakuwa said. "Welcome is more of immigrants integrating their skills and who they are into the larger community. It gives the community a richer kind of sharing and connectedness."
It doesn't stop there
The project is supported financially by Welcome Editions, through which national artists create a product that can be fabricated by immigrants in the Cincinnati community to be sold at art fairs and to collectors. This provides flexible and sustainable employment, as the fabricators are paid $25 an hour for their work, said Cal Cullen, executive director of Wave Pool.
The Welcome Project also partners with Camp Washington Urban Revitalization Corporation for community food distribution outside their space on the second Tuesday of each month from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The weekly Soup & Stories event provides free lunch created by community chefs while hearing stories from participants in the Owning Your Own Voice program who are recovering from addiction.
The Welcome Project, 2936 Colerain Ave., Camp Washington; wavepoolgallery.org/welcomemart.