When Pati Vargas was contacted by an FIU medical student looking for free space for an art show, she had no idea how important that phone call would be for both of them.
Vargas is the director of Viernes Culturales/Cultural Fridays, the popular art, music and cultural block party held on the last Friday of every month in the heart of Little Havana. Phoebe Hughes is one of the organizers of the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine’s annual Mammography Art Initiative (MAI), which raises money to pay for mammograms and other breast health services for underserved women.
“What they’re doing is very commendable, and if I could help, absolutely I was going to help,” says Vargas who did, in fact, help. She got the Barlington Group, which owns the Futurama Building on Calle Ocho, to donate space on the building’s first-floor gallery, which houses a dozen small studios.
Since its launch in 2011, the student-led Mammography Art Initiative has raised more than $50,000 with the support of local artists, businesses and the health care community.
“This year, we again have a diverse array of art on display and on sale, much of it donated by FIU’s own medical students and professors, as well as many local artists,” says Hughes, a second-year medical student.
Vargas will help the students curate the show and is looking forward to visiting the Green Family Foundation NeighborhoodHELP Linda Fenner 3D Mobile Mammography Center, which will be parked outside for tours. Affectionately known as the “mammovan”, the state-of-the-art mobile screening unit brings breast health services directly to women in neighborhoods across Miami-Dade — women who do not have health insurance.
“It’s been a nightmare,” Vargas says. After a complex series of issues with the insurance marketplace, Vargas says she found herself without health insurance since the beginning of the year. She was due for her annual breast screening, but could not afford it. After learning this, Hughes signed her up for a free mammogram.
“These are young students and what they are doing is amazing — so important, so needed,” Vargas adds. “I work with a lot of vendors and artists, including women, and many of us are in limbo. What happens if we get sick?”
Mammograms can save lives. According to the American Cancer Society, “breast cancer that’s found early, when it’s small and has not spread, is easier to treat successfully. Getting regular screening tests is the most reliable way to find breast cancer early.”
“The more people who come to the show and buy art, the more breast health services we can afford to offer to women in our community,” says Logan Garfield, another student organizer.