Patti VanBuskirk is a woman on a mission: To use art to raise awareness for cancer and cancer-related issues. VanBuskirk is in charge of the Cancer Awareness Mural Project Foundation, an initiative that aims to take the hidden issues of cancer and bring them to light using murals painted by local artists.
Her journey began when her sister was diagnosed with brain cancer at the age of 16. Since then, VanBuskirk has lost her wife to breast cancer, her father to lung cancer and many friends to various other types. But she also has loved ones who are currently battling the disease and many who won and are now completely cancer-free.
When one thinks of cancer, street art may not be the next logical connection, but VanBuskirk believes that, “art touches people in a way that invokes passion, creativity and conversation, which has the potential to lead to new ideas in how to address the issues of cancer.”
One issue that the Foundation aims to address is age at diagnosis for breast cancer. Breast cancer isn’t necessarily a mid-life disease for women; more and more cases are surfacing of younger people – 17, 15, even an 11-year-old – who were diagnosed after having to jump through hoops with doctors requiring extensive tests. “Meanwhile,” VanBuskirk says, “Hospice is filling up with 20- and 30-year-olds.”
From September 30 to October 7, 18 local artists came together to create a collaborative piece that shows people that cancer must be treated on a case-by-case basis. Before the official unveiling last Thursday, October 8, community members were invited to come paint the names of their loved ones who they lost to the disease, adding an interactive element to the mural.
VanBuskirk says St. Pete locals and businesses showed extensive support by volunteering time, donating supplies and even just thanking them for the work they did. “All of these things are affirmations that we are doing something that needs to be done, serving a purpose to bring about positive change.”
For this project, VanBuskirk and the Cancer Awareness Mural Foundation teamed up with The Amsterdam Bar and Funk Cancer for their 2nd Annual Funk Cancer event, which benefits the National Breast Cancer Foundation. Their goal was to raise $8,000 over the course of the 3-day event.
VanBuskirk’s personal goal for the event was to have people walk away from the Foundation’s artwork with an open mind, ready to discuss the mural’s issues and stir up new ideas. She would ideally like to put up new murals monthly; each addressing a different aspect of cancer and detection. Her dream is to see the Cancer Awareness Mural Foundation spread throughout the Unites States – using local artists from each city.
To VanBuskirk, St. Pete was the perfect place to launch her organization because of the local arts movement. Riding the wave of the SHINE St. Petersburg Mural Festival helped get people excited about what the Foundation is doing.
“It’s helpful to have the support of the art community behind us and the community is ready to embrace cancer awareness in a new fashion.”
Go see the completed mural at The Amsterdam: 1049 Central Avenue in St. Pete.
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