Alumnus paints to save animals

By Lauren Duncan

More than 5,000 dogs are killed in animal shelters every day.

That’s the message a few artists are wanting to share in order to stop the killing of animals.

An Act of Dog is a project started two years ago by Mark Barone and Marina Dervan. The mission of the project is to raise money for no-kill animal shelters and foster groups to save animals from kill shelters. In order to achieve this goal, Barone is creating 5,500 paintings of dogs, and the two plan to find a permanent museum to display them at, to create a lasting fund for no-kill shelters.


Mark Barone is a Chicago native who graduated from SIU in 1987 with a master’s in fine arts in painting.

“My time at SIU was great,” he said. “It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made to go to SIU. For me, it was a wonderful experience.”

Since then, Barone has been painting and involved in a number of projects, including the initiation and management of the Artist Relocation Program, which created financial incentives for artists to move to Paducah, Ky, to renovate and build properties in the city’s Lower Town where Barone resided. The project received national recognition and as a result, Barone became a consultant for cities nationwide.

Thus, Barone has experience in enacting social change through his art.

Marina Dervan not only leads the project with Barone but helped initiate the idea, as well. Barone’s dog Santina died at 20 years old, and several months later Dervan began looking at local shelters to give another dog a new home.

She said she was shocked to find how many dogs are killed.

“I think I was as ignorant as anybody else,” she said. “I had no clue.”


Dervan said she began to send images of the dogs that were killed to Barone, and the two began to discuss the problem.

“It was one of the moments in your life, it seems so overwhelming … are we powerless to do anything? We realized they’re the only ones who are powerless,” she said. “For us as two people, we really had to think about what could we do, or could we just close our eyes, turn away and carry on? The truth for us is that we couldn’t.”

From there, Dervan said Barone found out the number of dogs killed in one day, and with inspiration from the idea and goal of the Vietnam War Memorial, he began to paint.

The process

Barone said each painting is developed individually, but he generally has about 50 paintings going at one time. He already has 3,000 finished.

He said when he visualized the completed work, he imagined a massive exhibition that would put faces with what is happening.

“I figured we needed to do something that is so extraordinary that even if people are not dog lovers or patrons of the arts, they would see it anyway,” he said. “They would have to go see it just because of the mere size of the project.”

The total size will be about 10 feet high and two football fields long. Barone said he has envisioned it as not 5,500 paintings but one large piece.

But he said he hasn’t created the pieces in an assembly-line manner. Rather, he said, he considers each animal in the creation.

“It was very important that these were individual dogs, individual paintings and pieces to this bigger painting,” he said.

The goal

An Act of Dog has an ambitious goal: to raise $20 million for no-kill shelters. Dervan said she thinks they’ll reach it.

She said large animal shelters take in more than $120 million each year in charity, but less than .5 percent of that money goes down to the shelters and animals, she said.

She said this is one of the reasons why the two decided the display should be permanent and not temporary, because the charity money shelters currently receive is primarily being spent on other costs outside of the animals themselves.

“We want to create a permanent museum that could forever fund the shelters across America,” she said.

Not only do no-kill shelters need funding, but Dervan said there are few of the shelters in existence in comparison to kill shelters.

Dervan said $2 billion in tax dollars are used to operate shelters where animals are killed.

But the funding is not the only goal of the project; awareness is also a part of the artists’ purpose.

“When I visualized it, it was this massive exhibition that would be overwhelming that would actually put faces with what is going on out there,” Barone said.

The people who have come to the studio since Barone started painting have at times been overwhelmed, they said.

“We’ve had people absolutely moved,” Dervan said.

Those who have seen the paintings in person, Dervan said, have also been motivated to help with the cause. Through making donations, sharing the message through social media, speaking with local officials about the issue, volunteering, taking in a pet or simply becoming more informed on the subject, Dervan said people can help with the movement to help no-kill shelters.

“Art is so powerful for change,” Dervan said. “Just putting the number out there is not the same potency as putting a face and a name to it.”