Mark Barone and Marina Dervan want to help make Manatee County the epi-center of the no-kill movement.
The couple has spent the past nine months on their own private no-kill mission. Barone, who has worked as an artist for three decades and is known for working to rehab decaying cities, is painting the portraits of 5,500 dogs. It will take him two years working every day for at least 12 hours to complete the portraits of all of the dogs killed in one day in the United States. He is averaging about 70 a week, sketching out about 50 at a time and painting them side by side.
Barone paints portraits of dogs that have been killed in shelters. He's found their photos in memorials put up by rescue groups who try to save those dogs. Eventually he hopes to sell all of the portraits to individuals and businesses who will bequeath them to a museum designed to support the no kill philosophy.
By selling the paintings, the couple hopes to raise $20 million for no kill efforts across the country. To keep their effort going, the couple is also looking for businesses, animal lovers and residents around them to sponsor portraits of the dogs who have been killed. Some sponsorships are as little as $25 and all of that money goes toward paints, panels and other materials.
If the museum does come to Bradenton, the couple plans to relocate their studio to the area and would like to have Manatee County businesses and residents get involved in the effort.
The couple began the project in a tiny adobe house in Santa Fe, New Mexico after losing their Dog Santina. Barone had adopted the abandoned dog 20 years earlier. After Santina died Barone had a hard time dealing with the loss. Eventually Dervan got him to go to a park near their home where people brought their dogs to play.
She also began researching for dogs to adopt. That's when she discovered the high number of kill shelters in the United States. And then she began researching the statistics.
"I was outraged and mortified," Dervan said. I really couldn't take it, it was unnecessary."
Barone often came home to find Dervan crying about the animals that had been killed. Finally one day he went to Dervan and said tell me how many dogs are killed a day. They broke down the numbers from 2 million a year to 5,500 a day.
That's when Barone decided he would paint the number of dogs killed in one day as a way to raise money for the no kill nation. They decided that through his art they could raise $20 million to help end the killing.
Barone knew how to use his art to make a difference. His background was in revitalizing blighted cities using the arts, but painitng 5,500 portraits was going to be a huge undertaking so they began experimenting with ways to do it, so that it wouldn't take too long to get it done.
After experimenting on one painting at a time in their tiny kitchen, Barone knew he needed a much bigger space where he could spread out his panels and work on dozens of paintings at once. He figured if he could do 70 paintings a week, he could get the project done in two years.
But for the couple that meant practically no income for two years and huge expenditures on the materials to get the project done.But they were undeterred. They knew how to live frugally and they had enough in retirement savings to pull off the project.
"For us, we're purpose driven," Dervan said. "Not purse driven."
Nine months in, they have spent nearly $20,000 on materials. They moved to Louisville Kentucky where they could get large studio space for the project and Dervan began filming a documentary about their efforts. In addition she launched a public relations campaign to spread the word about the number of animals being killed and their efforts to raise money to put a stop to what Dervan describes as the unnecessary killings.
As they have been working on the project, they have been looking for places to locate the museum. They want a community that is aligned with the no kill philosophy. They also wanted to bring it to a place with enough people and businesses that could support the effort through buying and sponsoring the paintings to go into the museum.
In visiting Bradenton, they know that the community has a heart for the animals. The couple was impressed with Bradenton's downtown adoption center and the number of people who use their breaks to go to the center to walk the dogs during the day.
"This is something that a community can be proud of," Dervan said. "This is going to be one of a kind."
The couple talked with city and county officials, including Karen Windon, the deputy county administrator who discussed potential space for a downtown art gallery big enough to exhibit Barone's 5,500 portraits.
The idea to bring the gallery to Bradenton is still in its conceptual stages, but Windon said the timing is tremendous given Manatee County's no-kill mission and the work that has been going on here for the past year.
"The paintings touch you at that gut level of all these beautiful animals," Windon said.
She showed the couple the old Bradenton Office Supply building on 13th Street West as potential space for a gallery because of its 10-foot ceilings and its size. Windon said the location fits with the downtown adoption center's location and with The Village of the Arts.
"I am cautiously optimistic that we can get this done," Windon said. "Conceptually there are a lot of good opportunities with this."
She said animal lovers have proven they will spend money on a cause. Pet care is $52 billion a year industry and a museum devoted to animals could also attract such businesses to the downtown. Spending on art related experiences is $166 billion.