SOUTHINGTON — Record crowds turned out for the 11th annual Art Bra event to have some fun and raise money for cancer survivors.
“Art Bra is an event that we have every summer and it’s a great way to celebrate survivorship ... people that are currently battling and are survivors,” said event founder Christine Willett. More than 600 attended Thursday night at the Aqua Turf Club.
The fundraiser, hosted by After the Storm Inc., features a runway show of decorated bras, some created or modeled by cancer survivors.
The bras are decorated by people all over the country and beyond — two came from England — and are auctioned or raffled off. This year, 57 bras were submitted.
The bra themes included “Tequila Tatas” “The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe” and “Key to my Heart.” Others were inspired by animals, such as cats and unicorns.
This year’s opening bra was made by Middletown husband and wife Tracy and Mike Banks. A longtime friend of Willett’s, Tracy Banks has created bras for the show since its inception.
Her creation — “Courageous & Brave” — featured the names of more than 40 breast cancer survivors or loved ones lost to cancer. The names were adorned in letter beads on a bright pink bra.
“Everyone’s been touched with cancer … If I can help bring in some money for people, then I’m all for it,” Tracy Banks said.
Loriann Mancuso, the “Courageous & Brave” model and a cancer survivor, started the show by sharing her own story, including how she didn’t let cancer stop her from running the Boston Marathon with two friends also recently diagnosed.
She sang Melissa Etheridge’s “I Run for Life,” a song she and her friends used as a mantra during training. The bra was sold for $1,450.
Every runway bra was auctioned off for anywhere from $500 to $5,000. The highest bid of the night was $5,000 for the “Everything is Gonna be Alright” bra, which had a tropical theme and was made by survivor Dawn Parker, Nikki Fazzone and Jennifer Tassmer.
Art Bra raises money to provide integrative medicine for cancer survivors, since therapies like yoga, reiki and massage are not usually covered by insurance.
Willett started the event after her own experience with breast cancer, including integrative treatments.
“Middlesex Hospital had just started their integrative medicine department and they let me try a few free services and I realized what a great benefit it was during my time,” said Willett, who was diagnosed while pregnant 12 years ago.
Over the past decade, the event has raised more than $350,000 for local hospitals.
“This is a way for us to give back to those patients,” Willett said. “Everybody can benefit, and everybody should be able to benefit from it.”