Andie, Stella and PETA (oh my)

“Cancer is a wake-up call, like any life-threatening illness,” local visual artist Vera Struck, herself an eight-year survivor, recently explained via e-mail.

“To me,” says Struck, “every day is a gift.”

For Struck and other survivors, that gift is something that must be shared — either as a way of healing oneself, of helping others heal, or both. “I began my own fund-raising event before I had even finished my chemotherapy and radiation,” discloses the press-savvy painter.

“I chose to take the focus off myself and my disease and help educate and nurture others,” is how Struck views her efforts in hindsight.

“The experience,” she adds, “was very rewarding and healing for all involved.”

Currently, Struck is giving to the cause — breast-cancer research — with the added intention of promoting her own artwork. She joins the ranks of other area artists contributing their talents to The McCartney Project: Enduring Ties, named for late breast-cancer victim Linda McCartney, who strove far beyond her status as Paul’s wife, becoming a working artist and an outspoken animal-rights activist before breast cancer claimed her in 1999.

Coordinators of the many-tiered event will donate a quarter of its proceeds to the cause through the sale of art ties and high-priced tickets to a glamorous gala.

Group think

“It feels as if we’ve just rubbed off on people,” says Ann Dunn, founder and director of the Asheville Ballet and the strongest promotional force behind The McCartney Project.

Back in March of this year, Dunn read an ad in the Asheville Citizen-Times placed by The Garland Appeal USA, whose coordinators were looking for non-profits to share in a local fund-raising effort. (Garland Appeal, founded by Paul McCartney in honor of Linda, raises money to promote breast-cancer research and early-detection awareness.)

“I had been troubled about the nature of fund-raising in this community,” admits Dunn. “It seemed so competitive.” Intrigued by the idea of working alongside other non-profits in a joint effort, the dance maven jumped on board.

Local psychotherapist and fly-fishing guide Starr Nolan also recalls the ad, placed by Raleigh, N.C.-based filmmaker Ken Vrana. “I had jotted down to give that guy a call,” she remembers. “His film [Snow Angels] was about breast cancer, and Casting for Recovery deals with breast cancer.”

Casting for Recovery is a national group that holds fly-fishing retreats for women fighting the disease. Nolan, a long-time fisherwoman and women’s counselor, learned of the organization in 1997 and immediately contacted them. Then, three years ago, her efforts to start a North Carolina-based Casting for Recovery retreat came to fruition (the getaways occur at Lake Logan, near Canton), and a new retreat is slated for the Green River Preserve.

The third Asheville group to sign on to Garland Appeal’s mission was Little Pearls, a company known for creating short, inspirational films — such as the message from local school kids sent to their NYC peers after 9/11.

“We didn’t know Ann Dunn’s Asheville Ballet or Casting for Recovery before [The McCartney Project was planned],” reveals Little Pearl’s co-founder, Linda McClean. “It’s a nice way to get people from different groups to come together.”

The result is an elegant tumult of an event, featuring the Asheville premiere of Vrana’s Snow Angels — which documents the lives of three women living with breast cancer — and an original contemporary ballet by Dunn, choreographed to Little Pearls material and to film footage from a Casting for Recovery retreat. There’s also a celebrity-studded silent auction, a finger-food banquet, music by young Beatles tribute band Yesterday’s Tomorrow, various speeches scheduled throughout the evening, and an appearance by preferred local celebrity Andie MacDowell. In addition, silk ties decorated by local artists will be offered for sale prior to the show (see sidebar, “The best in cancer-beating accessories”).

The silent auction boasts such unusually appealing temptations as a GAP shopping spree, a baby grand piano, a cruise to the Bahamas, and a signed REM concert poster. Proceeds from the show and the auction will be split evenly between the four participants: Garland Appeal, the Asheville Ballet, Little Pearls and Casting for Recovery.

“I thought it was so cool — crossing traditional boundaries in fund-raising,” exclaims Dunn.

Sure, non-profits have been known to pool their resources — but in this case, it’s a ballet company, an outdoors group and a media company coming together. Undaunted, claims Dunn, by their differences, the groups sought out common ground.

“The dance explores ideas and imagery of the [Casting for Recovery and Little Pearls] film clips,” Dunn maintains. “I used the films as inspiration for the movement.”

She adds enthusiastically: “The films were so inspirational, the dance almost choreographed itself.”

Fishing for controversy

Though the gala is the culmination of four very separate organizations, it’s a single image — Linda McCartney’s — that graces the event’s poster.

However, McCartney was more than a victim of the disease that is expected to claim the lives of some 40,000 American women this year. She was an acclaimed photographer (and, not so coincidentally, heir to the Eastman-Kodak empire) — the first to shoot for Rolling Stone in the 1960s. But it was her efforts as an avid animal lover that most sharply defined her in her lifetime. McCartney’s affection for animals played out in her vegetarian lifestyle and impassioned advocacy, including her vegetarian cookbooks and her involvement with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

It’s this last fact that leads some to question the local involvement of Casting for Recovery — an organization dedicated to fishing — in The McCartney Project.

In essence, what would Linda think?

“Her name is being exploited,” declares Carolina Animal Action’s Terri David. “It’s not honoring her lifestyle. If you’re going to use someone’s name for a benefit, the least you can do is honor their lifestyle.”

Nolan offers her own point of view. “I respect the passions of those folks in PETA, even though I don’t always agree with their methods,” she says. “What I know is that [Casting for Recovery] is a healing activity, and I see no harm in the process.” Nolan, herself a fishing fanatic, says she never keeps the fish she catches, instead throwing them back alive.

Interestingly, just before her death, McCartney recorded an anti-fishing spot for PETA, in which she argues, “Have you ever seen a fish gasping for breath when you take it out of the water? They’re saying, ‘Thanks a lot for killing me. It feels great.’ No, it hurts!”

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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