The statistic is ugly: Approximately 5,500 dogs are euthanized daily in animal shelters across the United States.
Yet, Mark Barone and Marina Dervan have managed to create “An Act of Dog,” a hauntingly beautiful art exhibit depicting the massive number of canines killed every day.
“This is a pure, purpose-driven exhibit,” Dervan said. “Our sole intent is to help.”
The couple also intends to impact. “Our goal is not to focus too much on the problem. It’s the faces – not numbers. What Mark (Barone) is doing is creating a human interpretation so that each dog is a statement.”
Barone and Dervan first conceived of the exhibit when they prepared to adopt a dog while living in New Mexico, and learned the sobering statistic. “Do you just do nothing?” Dervan asked. “We must think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight.”
With Dervan acting as the primary spokesperson, Barone went to work painting. “Oh my God,” Barone said, recalling the initial days of the project. “I’ve never been involved in using my work for social change and I’ve never taken on a body of work like this.”
For weeks, Barone painted 12 hours a day, knowing each canvas depicted a life that no longer existed. “There were tough weeks,” he said. “Tough, tough weeks.
The duo soon turned “An Act of Dog” into a nonprofit organization and made a commitment to create 5,500 portraits of canines who have been euthanized in shelters across the country, with the mission of doing their part to create a no-kill society, one person, one city, one state at a time. They also dedicated themselves to raising $20 million dollars to donate to no-kill shelters, animal rescue and foster groups and toward spay and neuter costs.
After speaking with representatives from dozens of cities in various states about housing the unfinished project, Dervan and Barone were finally connected to the Mellwood Art Center, which offered up studio space rent-free for two full years.
Thus far, Barone has painted more than 3,000 portraits and won’t stop until he reaches 5,500. But that may not happen in Louisville. The generous Mellwood “lease” – which was given gratis – comes to a close at the end of March.
“Our goal now is to partner with a city or a philanthropist, even, to house the paintings in a permanent space,” Dervan said. “We’d like to stay here in Louisville. The city gains. The community gains. It’d be a huge tourist attraction.”
It could also be much more.
“Mark (Barone) cashed in his retirement to support this project. We believe in it. We’ve dedicated our lives to it,” Dervan said. “We walk around so softly sometimes. This is our big stick. Hopefully the right people in Louisville will step up. It is only faith that keeps you going.”
If you’re interested in sponsoring a painting for $25 or connecting with Mark Barone and Marina Dervan, contact them at 270.519.0967, email@example.com or www.anactofdog.org.
An Act of Dog Open House & Cocktail Party
Thursday, Feb. 7
7 to 9 p.m.
Mellwood Art Center
1860 Mellwood Ave.