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Building Hope from the Ground Up: Local Artist Joins Linked4Life to Break Silence around Mental Health

How do you find hope in challenging times? Alyssa Haley, owner of Born & Bred Studio in Hartford found a way to build it with her own hands.

Haley also constructed this bottlecap sign for Bear’s Smokehouse in New Haven prior to its grand opening.

Earlier this fall, Cheryl Antoncic of Bear’s Restaurant Group worked with the Jordan Porco Foundation to develop Linked 4 Life, a new initiative that aims to raise awareness of the importance of mental health and suicide prevention. Cheryl’s vision was to link together 11,000 carabiners as a public art installation as a symbol that we are all linked together, and it is OK to ask for help. The installation would also set a world record. However, Cheryl was looking for a local artist to put it together; that is where Haley came in.

Some of the best ideas start small, like a napkin drawing – and that is exactly what happened here. Haley knew that the sculpture’s foundation needed to be solid, yet lightweight to help with portability. Seeing as her whole family are crafters and/or tradespeople, she is no stranger to working with metal and other materials left as refuse. After her father connected her to Ironworkers Local 15, she started working with apprentices Sam Cook and Parker Maulucci on a 3D version of her drawing using donated scrap metal, which is a sculpture of “HOPE,” done in the style of Robert Indiana’s “LOVE” sculptures, seen in Philadelphia and elsewhere. Last week, the team finished sanding the 7’ x 7’ x 3’ frame, and had a chance to reflect on the work they had done. Ironworkers, construction workers, and other tradespeople don’t usually get to see much of the finished product, as they work on our infrastructure systems. Yet with a work of art, they marveled at the chance to create something that would make a different kind of impact.

The structure itself differs from its inspiration in a significant way; it is a frame rather than block letters. This symbol of hope is represented by the idea of community coming together around one idea, and that is breaking the silence and stigma surrounding mental health. Haley and the Linked 4 Life team is using art to bring us together, emphasizing that we are all struggling and that everyone’s individual experience is different. While collaboration is something that happens constantly both in front of our eyes and behind the scenes, there is a deeper need this year to come together for a larger purpose. Alyssa and her team were able to transform a napkin drawing into a record-breaking public art installation within a matter of weeks in a project that doesn’t just raise awareness for a cause, but also honors the often overlooked yet crucial work of essential workers.

On Saturday, October 10, Linked 4 Life will celebrate a temporary installation at Yard Goats Stadium before it is permanently placed elsewhere in downtown Hartford, and teams from around the state have been collaborating on selling the branded carabiners which Haley will assemble over the following weeks. Carabiners ($3 each) are being sold at all Bear’s Restaurant Group locations, as well as through online donations, and all proceeds go towards the Jordan Porco Foundation. As of writing, half of clips made have been sold. Visit linkedforlife.org learn more.

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