It is 9,343 miles from Bangkok to New Orleans, a flight of some 25 hours. As president and founder of Cancer Fighters Art, Jarunee McBride has made the trip many times during the past nine years. She’s also used to delays and the long haul.
“My artist friend who passed away many years ago, his father was a doctor,” she explained in heavily accented English. “If he had lived longer, he’d have liked to do something for people. But he died of cancer. He was 35.”
In his memory, McBride initially tried to mount an exhibition of Thai artists, a one-time show at the Acadiana Center of the Arts, but when the AcA changed directors, her project was subsequently rejected.
“Bad things happen for a good reason,” she said.
McBride had already contracted with Thai artists in her home country and felt obligated to keep her word.
“I had to open my company for the first time,” she said, referring to her nonprofit, Cancer Fighters Art.
Unwilling to take no for an answer, she approached Roger Laurent, the owner of the Frame Shop and Gallery 912 in the Oil Center.
“He was a charitable person and very kind. He said, ‘OK, we’ll do it,’ ” recalled McBride of Laurent, who passed away several years later.
Mello Joy owner Wayne Elmore agreed to sponsor, and after Laurent’s death, Jeromy Young bought the gallery and continued the annual exhibition.
McBride receives artist referrals via her journalist brother in Thailand and her own friends. A Thai television interview and similar exhibitions at the Thai Embassy in Washington, D.C., have also increased visibility.
The exhibition is mounted every October during Cancer Awareness Month.
Artist Jessica Moore has donated work in the past and recently taught relief printmaking in the Children’s Cancer Hospital in Thailand. Young has also made the long trip abroad on behalf of the project. “It was a wonderful experience working with the Thai people,” Young said. “I’m now officially the treasurer.”
Cancer Fighters Art pays no salaries, and 50 percent of the funds raised benefit the local American Cancer Society in Lafayette while the remainder goes to the National Cancer Institute in Bangkok. Last year, the organization raised $8,000, all of which went to research and prevention efforts. McBride will also donate to other 501c3 organizations specializing in cancer.
“It’s a really unique way to raise money for cancer research,” said Young. “The works she’s getting are some of the famous artists in Thailand, and to have their work is special. I’d like to convey that to people. I’m an art lover, and the work in mind-blowing. Very uncommon.”
Jay Surasane is one such artist and his painting, “Going to the Temple,” last year was priced at $5,000. Tom Secrest, former University of Louisiana at Lafayette professor and local art legend, will participate this year by donating 20 of his original works.
“It comes from their heart,” said McBride. “They do good.”