A New Kind of Stimulus Package: Children Leveraging Art for Money for Change in New Orleans
Fundred included in “A New Deal: Art and Currency” at BRIC Gallery in Brooklyn. Featuring bills made by PS 119 Peacebuilders.
Renowned artist Mel Chin initiated the Fundred Dollar Bill Project after accepting an invitation to post-Katrina New Orleans to explore rebuilding the social, cultural, and physical infrastructure of the city. While researching the hurricane’s impact, Chin discovered that, even before the storm, the soil of New Orleans was among the most lead-polluted in the United States. An estimated 86,000 properties currently record dangerously high levels of lead, contributing to elevated blood lead levels thousands of children and compromising their health.
Many studies document the correlation between childhood lead poisoning and learning disabilities, behavioral issues, and tendencies toward violent crime. The hazards of lead in children are widely documented as a contributor to loss of IQ points, high rates of behavioral and attention problems, and reading disabilities. Childhood lead poisoning is the single greatest predictor of school disciplinary problems, and later, juvenile crime. In 2008, New Orleans was ranked among the most violent cities in the country.
Compelled by this environmental tragedy, Chin began working on an effective solution. Chin organized a diverse team—including environmental scientists, landscape architects, and lead experts—to consider the best scientific methods and practical applications for addressing the contamination in-situ. The decided method, named Operation Paydirt, is ultimately intended to serve as a model for the numerous post-industrial cities with similar lead problems such as Cleveland, Providence, Detroit, and Chicago.
The estimated cost of implementing Operation Paydirt on a citywide scale in New Orleans is $300,000,000. To pay for the lead clean-up, Chin created the Fundred Dollar Bill Project to raise awareness and propel a an approach to Congress for necessary funding and support for neutralization of the lead contamination.
Fundred Dollar Bill Project participants consist of 3 million children and teachers from New Orleans and across the country who are coming together through art to create change. Participating children draw or color on specially designed $100 bill worksheets to create their Fundred Dollar Bills. The project aims to collect more than $300,000,000 worth of these Fundred Bill artworks.
Once the Fundred Dollar Bill Project reaches its goal of 3 million artworks, a specially retrofitted armored truck—running on vegetable oil—will be deployed across the nation to pick up the 7,000 pounds of Fundred Dollar Bill drawings. Guards driving the armored truck will deliver the art currency to Washington, D.C. and present them to Congress to ask for an exchange for the same amount in government funds and services to support Operation Paydirt’s solution to lead-contaminated soil.
Through the simple gesture of creating Fundred Dollar Bills, children, who are most susceptible to the environmental hazards of lead, are given a voice. Students are learning about problems that exist in our real world; they are given an understanding about the real dangers of lead in a way that allows their empathy to emerge. They are exposed to environmental responsibility, social responsibility, and as activists, they exercise and consider the power of their collective voice. The project offers these children an opportunity to envision a different world.
Chin has sculpturally transformed the façade of a house in New Orleans to look like a bank vault. This SAFEHOUSE is the project headquarters and serves to inspire the creation of Fundred Dollar Bills locally. The artist hopes this project will alert people to the dangers chemical lead poses to children—not only in New Orleans, but in all major industrial cities in the United States.
Chin has stated that his role in the project has evolved into that of a paper delivery man for the children and community members who create the Fundreds. They are the artists. The Fundreds will be presented to Congress along with Operation Paydirt’s documents of a verifiable scientific solution to lead in soils and the proposed program to implement it. The success of the project depends on the delivery of this combination of art and science.
The Fundred Dollar Bills honor the value of individual creativity. This collection of voices has creative collateral with representational power to speak to policymakers and federal funding agents.
FUNDRED at the Asheville Museum of Art in the Pack Place Community Gallery. (April 2009)
PS119 FUNDRED Operatives set up a display and volunteered to help get other schools involved.
Conceptual artist Mel Chin created SAFEHOUSE, a powerful sculptural icon of OPERATION PAYDIRT : NEW ORLEANS, Chin’s art/science project to take on lead pollution in New Orleans. Photograph by Arthur Simons III.
A soil sample from a property in New Orleans’ 8th Ward collected as part of a citywide analysis underway by OPERATION PAYDIRT, a massive art/science project to take on lead pollution in the city where soil lead levels are as much as five times the level considered hazardous by the EPA. Photograph by Amanda Wiles
First graders at Langston Hughes Academy Charter School in New Orleans creating FUNDRED bills for OPERATION PAYDIRT Photograph by Amanda Wiles.
Close-up of Fundred bills on the Walls of the Safehouse. Photograph by Amanda Wiles.blog comments powered by Disqus