Social Impact Heroes: Gillie and Marc are using public art to spread messages of love, equality, and conservation around the world.

May 2, 2019 / Thive Global and Authority Magazine / By Yitzi Weiner -- I had the pleasure to interview Gillie Schattner. Gillie is a half of the husband and wife artistic duo, Gillie and Marc. Gillie and Marc have been called the most successful and prolific creators of public art in New York’s History by the New York Times and are known as “the world’s most loving artists”. Creating some of the world’s most innovative public sculptures, Gillie and Marc are re-designing what public art should be, spreading messages of love, equality, and conservation around the world.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

As a child I loved art. I would spend hours drawing all the wild animals I was lucky enough to spot in my backyard, having grown up in Zambia. I never thought I could develop a career out of this, so instead, I followed another passion, a passion for caring for people, and became a nurse. It wasn’t until I met Marc that I considered turning my art into something more than a hobby. With Marc by my side, we discovered we could turn our art into something that could address many different issues and make a real difference. We have now created many projects aiming to promote a cause, such as gender equality, which is how our latest project, ‘Statues For Equality’ evolved.

By giving a cause a platform to be brought into the public eye, our art has made a real difference to many people and animals around the world. For example, in 2005 we launched a project called ‘Life Can’t Wait’, a series of paintings of some of the brave Australians waiting for organ transplants. After interviewing them and understanding their stories, we created pieces that depicted them reaching their dreams. One woman who was waiting for a lung transplant and couldn’t breath, dreamed to become a runner once again, so we painted her holding her running shoes. By putting the stories of these inspirational people out there, it brought a serious issue into the minds of Australians. Through this work, the public was encouraged to sign up to become an organ donor, an act that would change the lives of many who are desperately awaiting a transplant. Through this art, change happened, and that has encouraged me to constantly be creating art that will make a difference.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

In Australia, a lot of work is from commissions for sculptures, sculptures that tell the stories and history of certain areas and companies. I began to notice that the only requests we had for sculptures depicting humans, were requests for men. Marc and I have been making these public sculptures for the past 10 years, and in all that time, we have only been asked to create one sculpture depicting a woman. Noticing this imbalance, I began to research and discovered that this was not something unique to Australia, it was a global issue. The feminist inside me jumped into action and our project ‘Statues For Equality’ was born.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

We have made many mistakes over the years which we welcome as opportunities to learn and grow. One mistake or lesson we had was relating to our most iconic symbols, Dogman and Rabbitwoman. When we first created this duo, we originally had named Rabbitwoman, Rabbitgirl. We thought this rolled off the tongue nicely and didn’t put much more thought into it. Gradually, people approached us and told us they found this offensive and pointed out the imbalance between the characters, one being a man and the other a girl. After receiving this pressure for a name change, and as more feminist issues were being brought into my consciousness, we decided a name change was necessary. So from the beginning of 2018, Rabbitgirl became a woman.

Can you describe how your organization is making a significant social impact?

Our art is focussed on creating social impact. We want to bring these important causes to the public through the platform of art, to bring awareness and make people passionate and want to take action. With our project ‘Statues For Equality’, we hope to bring equal representation of women, and for the stories of women to not be overlooked and forgotten in favour of a man. By bringing this into the public eye, we hope to normalise gender equality and to teach young boys and girls that anything is possible, regardless of your gender.

We also want our company to lead by example when it comes to issues such as gender equality. All our employees are female, and this is for a good reason. We want to be able to give woman the opportunity to reach their dreams, to support themselves financially, and to ultimately win. We have also installed a creche in our building so the mothers in the staff can work as well as care for their children. With this work environment, we hope we can elevate the lives and opportunities of women to take steps towards gender equality.

Wow! Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was, or is being impacted by this cause?

For ‘Statues For Equality’, 10 wonderful and inspiring women have agreed to take part and have their likeness sculpted in bronze to become a part of our fight towards gender equality in public sculptures. These women are Oprah Winfrey, Pink, Nicole Kidman, Jane Goodall, Cate Blanchett, Tererai Trent, Janet Mock, Tracy Dyson, Cheryl Strayed and Gabby Douglas. Because of this, they have become a visual inspiration and role model for young girls and boys, to be able to look up and be inspired to follow their dreams. ‘Statues For Equality’ is also a way for these women to gain the recognition they deserve for the amazing work they have done, and to have their stories memorialised forever.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Definitely! Our work is erected in public spaces. This means it is imperative for the public to get involved in order for the change we are promoting to come into fruition. First of all, we want to encourage the public to interact with the sculptures. We have a hashtag assigned to the project, #StatuesForEquality. By taking a picture with the sculptures and sharing them across social media, this will help to spread the word. The more it is spread, the greater the chance it has to go viral. Gender equality is a global issue and we need the whole world involved to truly make a change.

We also want to encourage the community to nominate a woman who they think is inspirational and deserves to have a sculpture created. With the 10 sculptures we have already created, we are already making a big contribution to fixing the balance. But we still have a long way to go.

Finally, we want to encourage the organisations who commission statues to think twice before they make their decision. Rather than falling back on a male to recognise, consider whether there is a female who is just as, if not more worthy of this recognition. Think about what message this will send from your company and how you can make a difference. This is especially aimed at the sports industry where 99% of commissioned sculptures depict men. It’s time to start considering the talented women in the industry, there are a lot of them!

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership to me is someone who acts more as a mentor than someone who takes absolute charge. I try to lead the women in my company in a way so they can thrive and achieve to the best of their ability. I want to be able to provide a safe space for the women to take charge of their careers and lives. Working with all women, I feel I can relate to them and understand their issues. For example, the creation of the creche in our building. When I was in my early 20s, I felt that I had to make a decision; focus on my career or raise my child. I couldn’t see a way where I could do both. The creche solves this issue for the mothers of our company. They no longer have to feel torn between their responsibilities, which provides them with a wonderful opportunity to thrive in both facets of their lives.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. Have a dream. If you have a dream then you have the opportunity to follow it. Without a dream, you have nothing to follow. You should never feel afraid to follow this dream. Marc and I had the dream to become artists, but at first, we had to have separate jobs in order to survive. We were working practically 24 hours a day in order to feed our family and pursue our dream. But because we had one, we had a purpose in our lives which led to the most extraordinary things.

2. Never give up on that dream, no matter what happens. I didn’t realise how resilient you have to become when following a dream. I will never forget what my accountant told me as I was first starting out. She told me that if this was a business I was passionate about, I should never give up. As soon as I had passed the 3-year mark in my business, the hardest years were over. I just had to make it until then. If you’re passionate, you can achieve anything.

3. If you make a mistake, it doesn’t matter. Use these mistakes to learn, and turn them into knowledge. Over the years I have learnt that it always ends up ok, and stressing over something just makes it worse. We made a terrible mistake when we were first starting out with our bronze sculptures. We were still very new to the engineering side of things and we installed a very wobbly sculpture. We were terrified it would fall and hurt someone and lots of people were very annoyed at us. To get it fixed was a huge learning curve, but we got it done and the next installation was a lot better.

4. Don’t be afraid to take risks. Don’t be scared and make sure you push yourself out of your comfort zone. In order to break out of the mould and be different, you need to experiment and be innovative. We had an exhibition where we wanted to create our first large sculpture. We estimated that it would cost us $10K, but we didn’t have much money and desperately needed a car. We decided to take the risk and spend the money on the sculpture instead, a risk that opened so many doors for us to create monumental sculptures and changed our career path.

5. Think big. We began to realise that it cost the same amount of energy to think up small ideas that it did for big ones. The difference is in the execution. Big ideas have the potential to have an incredible impact that can change your life. When we were thinking of how to create a sculpture for the final three white rhinos, we thought big. We created the largest rhino sculpture in history and placed it in the centre of New York City. The public recognised the size and the scale and gave an overwhelming amount of support, changing the lives of the rhinos.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Currently, the movement that is close to my heart is ‘Statues For Equality’. I am hoping that this can unite the world in changing the gender imbalance that we see everywhere. This project started in NYC but it is a worldwide issue. Already we have had an incredible amount of support for this project. With the nominations we have had for more sculptures, we have learnt so much about the bravery, vision, and inspiration of so many women across the world that we had never heard of. It has been incredibly enlightening and I hope to bring these names to the public to bring these women credibility and honour.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Never ever give up”, by Winston Churchill. I first saw this quote on a card and bought it for Marc. It may be a simple message but I found this to be incredibly powerful, and Marc and I take it with us every day. You can do anything you set your mind to. Over the years we have had our ups and downs. There have been times when it has been incredibly tough but we never gave up, so we got through it. We realised that there is always one thing that is certain, you will always encounter failure. But failure is part of the process and provides a huge opportunity to learn. Each time we meet failure, we make sure that we never give up, we get back on the horse and try again. Every time it moves us a little bit further forward. Life doesn’t change when you reach your goal, we’re always moving forward, you’ve got to keep going.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Oprah Winfrey. Oprah is one of the wonderful women who has agreed to be a part of ‘Statues For Equality’ and have her likeness immortalised in bronze. She has always been an inspiration to me, and Marc and I have never missed her show! She is such a genuine and caring woman and I admire her work hugely. There is a good reason why she has been named the greatest black philanthropist in US history, she has helped so many people and inspired so much hope and love. It would be a huge honour to meet her.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find us on Instagram (@gillieandmarcart), Facebook (Gillie and Marc Art), and Twitter (@GillieandMarc).

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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