KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Art is a great healer. That's why the Knoxville-based nonprofit BreastStrokes uses paint to help cancer patients.
The group has a unique approach to fundraising. Every year, artist volunteers use live canvases to create colorful designs across women's bare chests.
The event is called "Paint Days." Every artist and person being painted participate free of charge. Women of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds and ages sign up to help out because of BreastStrokes' mission.
"Our goal is to raise money to give back to local women who are battling all forms of cancer," BreastStrokes President Ami Davis said.
After the works of art are finished, a photographer snaps a picture, the photos are framed, and then bidders try and win the creations at an auction later in the year.
All the money collected from the auction, sales and others donations goes directly to women in the community who are fighting some form of cancer. Female cancer fighters are able to go online and apply for the money.
Once a year, hundreds of women volunteer to be vulnerable during Paint Days, all because 10 friends began the trend.
"It started with a group of local artists. One of their friends was diagnosed with breast cancer. They weren't sure what they were going to do to help her out," Davis said. "They all got together in someone's living room and just decided to paint each other, just for fun, because they knew that she was going to have to go through some surgeries."
Julie Lien is a recipient of "healing money" as the nonprofit calls it. She has volunteered with BreastStrokes for years, helping out, talking to others and listening to everyone's stories.
She got her own breast cancer diagnosis in September 2021.
"I remember coming and seeing women with ports and scars and mastectomies," Lien said. "I didn't think it would be me and now it's me, and so now I think it means more."
Without this type of support system, and receiving help from the nonprofit, Lien said her life would be a lot harder.
"I think it would have had a lot more surprises, I would have understood a lot less of what was happening for sure," Lien said. "Probably a smaller cushion of friends to help me through it, for sure."
Since she is now on the receiving end of the healing money, she's able to appreciate the other side of it. There are no stipulations as to how recipients can use the money either.
"Part of our mission is empowering women," Davis said. "So we're one of the few organizations that gives grants with no strings attached, meaning if they want to use the money for bills, they can. If they want to use the money for a trip to Hawaii, they can. Whatever they think they need, that's what they should use the money for."
At the end of the day, BreastStrokes wants to empower women, while pouring into the cancer community.
"It's really important in different ways for those women to feel a part of this community and to know that they have all of our support," Davis said.
The auction for the works of art will happen later in the year. You can keep up to date on the BreastStrokes Facebook page.
You can also buy a calendar with the artwork or just donate at any time through the BreastStrokes website.
Paint Days happen at Ironwood Studios in Knoxville, but men are not allowed at the event. To protect the privacy and identity of women who participated, WBIR chose to show only close-ups and backs of the women who volunteered to be painted.