Bras On Broadway Impacting Lives

Katherine Beneby, MSUM Mass Communications

FARGO, N.D. – She has a strong zeal for her community. Whether she is volunteering at a retirement center or purchasing produce and meat from local producers.

She thinks about social issues often and creates opportunities for customers to contribute to causes like Riverkeepers and Out of the Darkness Suicide Walk.

Karen Stoker-HODO Owner
Karen Stoker, successful business owner of Hotel Donaldson, downtown Fargo.

As owner of Hotel Donaldson, Karen Stoker, 49, has a passion for building the Fargo-Moorhead community. Her major initiative is to bring breast cancer awareness through the Bras on Broadway fundraiser.

“You get so much when you give a little and I love that opportunity,” Stoker said.

Q: How did Bras on Broadway come about?

A: Well seven years ago a friend of mine and I were having lunch. Her sister had been at an event for breast cancer where the artist in this town made wearable work. And (her friend) said, “You know with all the art and the relationship you have with the artists, I thought it was a pretty cool idea, what do you think?” I said, “I think we should give it a try.”

So the first year we sold out and rose over $13,000 so were thrilled with that. The second year we had more people that wanted to make bras and since we sold out, you know we can only get so many people in the building. We had an idea from one of our sponsors about maybe collecting old bras and people can pitch in five bucks and that way more people could participate. So we added that element to Bras on Broadway and it has continued to grow.

Bras stung together
Bras strung together across Hotel Donaldson to create awareness about breast cancer.

Last year we raised over $100,000 so from $13,000 to $100,000 in six years is pretty phenomenal. We’re the only fundraiser that works with American Cancer Society so all the money stays in North Dakota and North Western Minnesota. It all goes to gas cards.

The average commute for a woman getting treatment is 140 miles because we’re such a rural area. So that doesn’t take very many trips for your treatment to make a dent in your monthly budget. The money goes, it doesn’t last a year. We hope to raise enough money to have it last a year.

Q: Who are some the big artists involved in this project?

A: We added non-wearable work. The first year was just bras and then there were many artists that wanted to contribute and are very generous, and we asked them to as well. Walter Heil donated a piece. His show is up in the restaurant right now. Carl Oltvedt, who is a professor at MSUM. Modern Man, a very well-known artist in the region, Punchgut and then there are people who name maybe not as recognized.

Bra designed by Punchgut
A bra designed by Punchgut for Bras on Broadway in 2008.

So we’ll have about 45 wearable (art pieces) and, based on last year, we had right around 90 pieces of art, both wearable and non-wearable.

Q: How does the auctioning process work?

That is the night of the event where we have a silent auction. So we’ll have 40-some women wearing beautiful pieces and then people write their number. They get a bidding number, and the amount of money they would want to bid on the bra. Next year we’re pretty sure we’ll be able to do that online.

Q: What has been the highest bid on a bra?

A: We’ve had bras go for over $800.

Bras on Broadway 2009
Bras strung together to create awareness about breast cancer in 2009.

Q: How is the Bras on Broadway party funded?

A: We have the lowest cost percentage of any fundraiser in the American Cancer Society. We do it for about 14 cents on the dollar. We get everything from toilet paper to wine contributed by people in the community. That’s really huge. We’re raising a lot of money and spending very little because everyone is so generous and helping us make this happen.

Those items I just mentioned are given to us to use for the party. So we’ll have one of our reps contact a vineyard and they’ll donate a case of wine. That night we have a drink list. One-hundred percent of the money you buy that drink for goes to Bras on Broadway because someone’s donated pink vodka, someone has donated pink champagne; we mix it up and make it cool.

Q: For people who do not know about the cause, has anyone ever complained about it being offensive?

A: Yes, almost once a year we get one call. We just listen to them and say we respect their opinion and that our efforts are helping hundreds of people and our neighbors. That’s why it is so successful.

Q: How is this year different from previous years?

A: This year we’ll have more survivors modeling than we ever had before. They’re excited to be three, four and five years cancer free. We have wonderful food, great live music and I think there may actually be a live snake that is involved in one of the bras. We’ve added body painting. One of our friends who is an artist comes in and paints the models according to if the artist that made the bra wants it.

Bra creating awareness
A bra being modeled at Bras on Broadway in 2010 reads, “Get screened.”

Q: How has Sanford Women’s (Health) contributed to the project?

A: They have been really wonderful to work with. They not only provide cash sponsorship but in working with the oncologist there she was instrumental in helping us get the gas cards faster and more directly to patients. So that was really great to work with them and they’ve also published a book this year. Sanford Women put together many stories and photos from survivors published in this beautiful book. We’ll be selling that at Bras on Broadway and Sanford is having an event at the Plains Art Museum, too.

Q: Are there any incentives for participants?

A: The team that raises the most money gets a party here at the Hotel Donaldson.

Q: What drives you to continuously host this event at Hotel Donaldson?

A: The power and energy of women coming together and making a difference in the world. It’s just that bonding of women coming together and getting stuff done.

If you would like to join the fight against breast cancer, click here for more information.

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