A bra signed by actress Kathleen Turner—in fact, a table full of artistically garnished bras—were among items displayed last Saturday at The Graduate Club of New Haven. The occasion was a Pink Champagne Tasting presented by Amity Wines and Spirits for the benefit of ArtBra New Haven, a registered 501(c)(3) public charity that supports cancer patients. The event was designed to raise money and awareness of the ArtBra mission, and to call attention to its 3rd annual runway auction event, scheduled for Oct. 6 at the Omni New Haven Hotel.
The idea of bringing ArtBra to Greater New Haven was the brainchild of friends Serena Hatch of New Haven and Gaye Hyre of West Haven, both breast cancer survivors, who created a local organization that connects the communities of breast cancer survivors, supporters and fine artists, in order to raise funds for uninsured and under-insured cancer patients at the Breast Center at Smilow Cancer Hospital.
Hyre recounted her own pre-Affordable Care Act horror story, when she learned that her insurance company had dropped her coverage a day before she was scheduled to begin chemo therapy for her aggressive breast cancer. The insurance company claimed the policy was jettisoned because of her preexisting condition—the breast cancer they surmised she must have had all along.
Shocked, Hyre called to cancel her then unaffordable appointment. A sympathetic social worker at Smilow Cancer Hospital said to come in for treatment. “When you are well again, you will pay the hospital $25 per month for the rest of your life. We have arrangements for those who need it.” Next, Hyre called the office of her state senator, Toni Harp. Harp‘s legislative aide, whom an indebted Hyre now refers to as “The Fabulous” Phyllis Silverman, called the office of the state insurance commissioner. The rest was history—history that saw Hyre‘s insurance policy restored, along with her piece of mind. But she worried about the thousands of women who are unable to access the health care system for myriad reasons, chief among them a lack of health insurance.
After the experience with the insurance company, Hyre’s response was a personal call to action. Hearing from Hatch about Artbra fundraisers held elsewhere, the two women decided to start ArtBra New Haven. They wanted to make it personal, emotionally creative, and adapted to the artsy community that is Greater New Haven. It was also important that the art pieces be created by cancer survivors and their supporters. To the extent possible, runway models should also be survivors—all ages, shapes, sizes, and colors including male models because breast cancer doesn’t discriminate.
Though not a fine or graphic artist, Hyre created a whimsical, visually engaging ArtBra New Haven logo, which was then refined by her longtime friend, noted fantasy illustrator Melissa Benson of Shelton, herself the daughter of a breast cancer survivor. While retaining the pink color theme widely associated with another breast cancer charity, Hyre believes her fantasy corset logo effectively conveys their creative approach to Artbra’s mission.
ArtBra New Haven is presently calling for artist submissions for their next event in October: “We are looking for both wearable and non-wearable art bras, as well as pieces in other formats and mediums. In the past we have had bras made of copper and found objects, as well as sculpture, fine art photography, drawings, paintings, and fiber art. Pieces should speak to the concept and/or experience of breast cancer. They can be light-hearted—remember, survival is a triumph.”
Hyre has herself created several art bras. “I’ve decided I’m an ‘Outsider Artist’ and my medium is clearly lingerie.” Creating the one-of-a-kind bras is a kind of art therapy according to Hyre, who said she holds periodic BYOB (Bring Your Own Bra) and ideas parties, where participants sew, glue, ink, paint, sculpt, and put their imaginations to work.
October‘s ArtBra New Haven fundraiser will see the return of WNPR radio host and personality Bruce Barber, who will emcee and and serve as auctioneer. Hyre said that when asked to do the show, Barber was immediately amenable: “It sounds like fun.” When recently asked about doing this third year, Bruce said that he’s ready for “the hat trick”.
ArtBra also wants to keep in mind the serious side of things, by thanking someone each year, who has done important work advocating for the concerns of breast cancer patients. The first ArtBra honoree was New Haven U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, an ovarian cancer survivor, in recognition of her work writing the “No Drive-Through Mastectomies” legislation. Her award was an art bra made by Hyre and which is reportedly on display in her Washington D.C. office. DeLauro was impressed by the organization’s mission and enthusiastic attitude, declaring that it should become a New Haven tradition.
Last year‘s ArtBra honoree, Nancy Cappello, is founder of the Are You Dense? advocacy organization, dedicated to increasing awareness of dense breast tissue and its implications in early breast cancer detection. Her work has taken on national policy significance.
This year ArtBra will acknowledge the work of Research Scientist in Genetics, Ellen T. Matloff, director of the Cancer Genetics Counseling Program at the Yale School of Medicine. Her special area of study is BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations, the presence of which, greatly increase the probability of developing breast cancer.
ArtBra New Haven co-founder Gaye Hyre, is not unlike many cancer survivors whose life paths are reordered by the disease, bringing both the worst of life’s experiences and the very best. “If you disregard the premise, I wouldn’t have missed this for the world” said an appreciative Hyre.
For more information, to donate or volunteer, visit the ArtBra New Haven website.