Artist Mark Barone and conflict coach Marina Dervan are taking a year off from their regular lives for

, a Santa Fe-based art project geared at raising money to make animal shelters no-kill. Barone is in the process of painting 5,500 euthanized dogs—the number of dogs killed in US shelters each day—as part of an exhibition and “dogumentary” Dervan is organizing that will travel to museums across the country. Sponsors support the endeavor by donating money to have their names written on the paintings. The duo hopes to raise $20 million from painting sales, all to be donated to organizations dedicated to making America a no-kill nation. SFR spoke with Dervan about the project.

SFR: Describe the shelter situation in this country.


The way shelter systems are right now, most of them are kill shelters. If you bring your dog or cat that you aren’t going to take care of any longer, the animals usually are killed within 72 hours. Other animals they perceive as adoptable get a little bit longer. It’s extremely high-kill.

What is the solution?

TNR, or trap-neuter-return, of feral cats, which allows feral cats not to get killed. Twice as many cats as dogs are killed in shelters. We also need foster organizations that are willing to take dogs from humane societies that are overwhelmed. The bottom line of turning into no-kill is leadership; you have to have the leader of a shelter committed to no-kill. And rehabilitation programs for the dogs. The first dogs that are going to get killed are pit bulls or related breeds, or if they are black.

Really, if they’re black?

People have bad associations with black dogs; it’s called black dog syndrome. Dogs put into the vicious category are first [to be killed]; black dogs are next. I don’t think there’s really a good enough explanation, but it’s a real issue in adoption with black animals.

Is it feasible to deal with an extra 5,500 dogs per day?

The idea is not just that dogs, cats and rabbits get saved. It’s now a commitment to life, being there for them 100 percent, the way they are for us. You would find ways to increase foster homes; go to schools, educate children, teach them what it means to care for animals. A lot of people say it’s not possible, but it is possible. It’s been done and it’s being done.

What are your thoughts on the human death penalty?

That’s a whole other subject. I think I have a hard time with an eye for eye. I’m not sure it really produces what we think it does. Very rarely do we think about killing, and yet we kill. If you ask a policeman why he killed, he’d say, ‘I killed that guy because he killed that other guy.’ We don’t stop to think about the nature of killing.

How likely is it that you’ll make $20 million?

It’s actually not really a lot of money to raise if you think about what you can get per painting. It’s a small amount of money to raise because people are very passionate about animals. But they don’t know what’s going on at their local shelters. At their local shelters, they really believe the animals are going to get adopted.

Have you guys done any sort of activist work before?

Mark was going along as an artist for many years and was living in Paducah, Ky., in a seriously blighted neighborhood, surrounded by drug lords and villains and such…Mark implemented an arts initiative there and creatively enrolled people from all over the nation, artists, with fantastically creative ads and it got lots of media attention. These artists moved from where they were living happily to Paducah, Ky., which would not seem like a really great place to move into. He believed in making sure artists had ownership of buildings, which had a huge effect on the community. The arts initiative became the model for other cities to look into. He turned around this blighted neighborhood. The police cleaned up the neighborhood, added more law enforcement, moved out the drug lords.