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An Act of Dog Museum of Compassion

Lick: Tell us a little bit about Mark Barone, your background and interests in general.

Mark: I am originally from Chicago, and born into an Italian family. Growing up with a father who was an Architect for over 50 years, I thought I was going to be just like him and initially studied Architecture, but soon realized that it was too restrictive for my creative needs. I branched off into studying fine art and gravitated towards using oils, as I found them to be a more effective medium for deeper, emotional expression.

Outside of painting, I am passionate about animals and I love music! In particular, I have a passion for Jazz. I have dabbled in playing the Saxophone and most recently, the Trumpet.

Lick: How did you connect into the “art scene?” Why “art?” as expression or work?

Mark: I’ve been a representational and narrative painter for over 35 years. I have never been interested in painting for profit or doing paintings to match people’s decor. Prior to doing the 5500 portraits of shelter dogs for our charity, An Act of Dog, I painted almost exclusively about the struggles of the human condition and created work that was a reflection of my own search for meaning. I would say that at my core; I am only interested in using art for social change and leading a purpose driven life.

Lick: What transpired in your life to connect you with the plight of animals and dogs in particular?

Mark: I had the good fortune of finding two abandoned street dogs; Rudy and Santina. They soon became the rudder, which helped to stabilize me as my early life turned to chaos. I was especially connected to Santina, as she was with me for almost 22 years, and helped me to navigate through my own struggles. She was always there for me in my darkest days. Her love filled me up in ways that I had never experienced from another person. Santina was ultimately the inspiration and catalyst for me wanting to help other shelter animals experience the love and life that they truly deserve.

Lick: How and when did “An Act of Dog” come about? What was the driving force to cause you to make a statement and to take action?

Mark: It was my life partner, Marina, who brought the plight of shelter animals to my attention. She had always been a cat lady, But after spending years with Santina and experiencing dog love, she was deeply moved and devastated when Santina died. Shortly after our loss of Santina, Marina went on-line to search for another dog to adopt, but instead of finding one, she discovered the chilling number of animals being destroyed in shelters, every year, and asked me to face this reality as well.

At first, I did not want to look. It was so painful and overwhelming, yet it stirred a deep well of emotions for me, and that was enough for me to want to find a way to use my talents towards their salvation. Shortly after, An Act of Dog was born and I was on my way to illustrating the approximate number of dogs destroyed, everyday in shelters. (5500). My intention is to save all healthy and adoptable shelter animals, not just dogs, and to bring awareness of our relationship to all animals and inspire a deeper reverence for them.

Lick: Tell us about your upcoming PBS Special

Mark: PBS has partnered with documentary filmmakers, Sagacity Productions, from Boston, to tell the story of our journey and mission. They were so moved by our “putting it all on the line” for the voiceless they felt compelled to want to share it with the world. In particular, they wanted to witness the first artist ever to paint 5500 of anything, and how we were using art for social change. They document our struggles and how we are using art to paint visual records of our current state of consciousness towards animals and the way we are using the artwork to raise funds to save the animals and working with schools kids to show them the most effective ways to use their art for social change.

Lick: What are your most favorite art pieces created within act of dog?

Mark: I don’t have any favorites from the 5500. Even though I painted their individual souls. I am making one statement with the work, that is, to illustrate their collective and needless fate and our own lower state of consciousness and lack of compassion.

Lick: What do you think it will take to turn the kill shelters around?

Mark: Compassion is the most important ingredient in the formula for life saving success. It must be woven into our foundation and become the driving force behind all of our decisions. With compassion as the driver, we will choose to hire shelter directors and staff who are committed to adopting life saving strategies, in place of the existing, archaic and inhumane methods.

Lick: Do you know what is being done (If anything) now to change the brutality?

Mark: There are over three hundred million people living in America, and we need to educate the public to adopt, spay/neuter and choose not to breed or buy animals. These elements are critically important but changing behavior takes time.

In the meantime, millions of shelter animals will die, unless we start with focusing at the shelter level (as this is the only place where the killing is taking place) and we must stipulate that shelters institute the “eleven step” no-kill equation, as initiated and developed by Nathan Winograd, of the “No-Kill Advocacy Center.” This process has helped shelters go from killing over 80% of the animals they take in, to saving over 90%. There are so many shelters who have implemented this program with great success and are inspiring a shift in sheltering methods across our great nation.

The no-kill train has left the station and is showing us the “right behavior, the right way”. Without the support and selfless work of shelter workers, rescue groups, volunteers, fosters and transporters, the animals would be alone and without hope. We give thanks and praise to all of these “stewards of compassion.”

Lick: What are your long term goals for the project and for yourself?

Mark: Our focus is to apply the use of art for social change and use creativity to be the driving force behind fundraising for the animals and the critical need to educate the next generation in being advocates and leaders for compassionate change.

Kids are the “unwrapped gifts of our future,” and we believe that it is critically important to put meaningful art back into schools to allow children the process of self discovery and to ignite a desire to become informed about the atrocities in society and to use their creativity to bring them into the light.

Art, when created for social change, engages kids at a depth that is crucial for cultivating collective happiness and social cohesion. It catalyzes them into creating and promoting solutions for sustainable development. This approach will arm tomorrow’s leaders with the necessary skills to unite our differences and promote intercultural dialogue, with no-one left behind… including our animal friends.

Lick: ​What would you say in culmination of your project?

Mark: Ultimately​, we envision the 5500 portraits of shelter dogs in a working/interactive museum, where kids will come to create for an animal cause or other social injustices they are passionate about, turn their art into a product and build social campaigns to raise money and awareness for change.​ I​ have spent all of my retirement savings to help the animals​, and​ will need the resources and compassion of a few philanthropists to help us achieve this goal, as we are just two, and cannot do it alone. Personally, my life, is no longer about me, it’s about contribution.

Lick: Wow. You blow me away with your goodness. I am so loving and agreeing with your line of thinking and your beautiful sacrifice for the animals.

“What can each of us do to help?”

​Mark​: In addition to getting involved with fostering animals, transporting them, or helping shelters and rescue groups and choosing to adopt your own animals, think about other ways that you can use your talents to be a voice for them. Perhaps you can write articles, create videos or take pictures of animals in need of adoption. Maybe you know others in influential media positions​, marketing experts, or friends who have extra funds to give to animal causes. Always choose to do “something.”

Lick: Beautifully put! Any closing thoughts?

Mark: We welcome and ask you to support our charity in any way, be it shopping on our website for beautiful dog prints, night lights, original woodcut t-shirts or having me paint a portrait of your own pet, donating or sharing our charities mission
on your social media platforms or asking your friends to get engaged too.​

Lick: Mark, Thank you so much for this wonderful project. It inspires everyone who loves dogs and wants to make a difference in this world to follow their passion and do something positive they believe in. Thank you for “An Art of Dog”. It is an expression of your love and caring for the animals that we all get to enjoy. Most importantly, it is a forever memorial and gift for the animals.