The Welcome Project creates opportunities for immigrants in Cincinnati

Loretta Davis, Broken Into Beautiful executive director, tells her story during the Soup and Stories event held by the Welcome Project in Camp Washington on Wednesday, July 20, 2022. The Soup and Stories event tells the stories of people recovering from addiction and trauma as part of the Owning Your Own Voice program.

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.

Erika NJ Allen, Welcome Project interim manager, works on setting up one of the Welcome Project's Cincinnati's Table events in Camp Washington on Wednesday, July 20, 2022. The Welcome Project is affiliated with Wave Pool Gallery, an arts and food organization focused on empowering immigrants, and artists and serving the Camp Washington community.

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.

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