With its unique intertweaving of grass-roots advocacy, the self-expression of children, and scientific procedure, Fundred/Paydirt is addressing a national environmental crisis. 

When artist Mel Chin came to New Orleans and saw the magnitude of the physical and psychological damage from Hurricane Katrina, he felt the need to respond on an equivalent scale. With a background in environmental art, Chin felt passionately about addressing widespread lead contamination in New Orleans (a problem even before Katrina), where 86,000 lead-contaminated properties affect over 30 percent of its inner-city population. Lead-contaminated soil is a factor in the larger issue of lead poisoning, which plagues every major U.S. city and disproportionately affects lower-income children, putting them at risk for severe learning disabilities and behavioral problems.

Chin is a conceptual artist who believes concepts can drive action and create sustainable change. “You can’t start out saying I’m going to change policy, you start out with acknowledging a problem or social injustice that needs to be addressed.” Chin’s approach was to create a framework for action, with art as the catalyst for creating new options for addressing the problem.   

The resulting project, Operation Paydirt/Fundred Dollar Bill Project (Paydirt/Fundred), is an exceptionally ambitious and multidisciplinary initiative, incorporating art, science, education, community development, and urban infrastructure.  http://www.fundred.org/about/operation-paydirt.php


Creative Process

As reflected in its name, Paydirt/Fundred has two distinct yet intertwined components:
1. Fundred, a grassroots art and advocacy project using the self-expression of the young people most affected by the problem; and
2. Paydirt, a solution to lead contamination as verified by scientific process.

1. Starting with the belief that the population most at risk needs some vehicle to express itself, Chin originated Fundred as a grassroots effort to bring together stakeholders, draw attention to the problem, and give them ownership of the solution. Engaging community through schools, community centers, art centers, and other means of social networking, Fundred offers students the opportunity to participate in the project by drawing a Fundred Dollar Bill, an original interpretation of a U.S. $100 bill. The goal is to collect three million Fundred Dollar Bills, representing the $300 million required to make safe every lead-contaminated property in New Orleans.

In 2010, a specially retrofitted armored truck began an 18,000-mile national tour to collect the unique Fundred “artworks” that will ultimately be delivered to Congress in Washington, D.C., to request an exchange of the value of the art currency for actual funds. http://www.fundred.org/experience/truck.php.  Artworks currently are being collected and held at the Philadelphia Fundred Mint. http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/04/20/gsif.fundred.dollar.bills/#cnnSTCVideo

2. While the engagement process for Fundred was taking place around the country, Paydirt, the remediation component, was occurring on a scientific level. Paydirt offers an alternative to “dig and dump” remediation (the standard EPA methodology for residential areas) and a model for lead-safe cities across the United States to support generational human and environmental health. In partnership with principal scientific investigator, Dr. Andrew Hunt, University of Texas, Arlington, the team expanded upon existing technologies to write a protocol Chin calls “Treat Lock Cover (TLC).” This methodology, currently used by the EPA and Department of Defense, is an economical and relatively simple application of fishbone-sourced calcium phosphate to neutralize lead found in soil above tolerable thresholds. 


Outcomes and Press

1. Since its inception in 2007, the Fundred Dollar Bill Project has raised awareness of the problem of lead poisoning and given voice to democratic process; nearly 400,000 people have participated to date. The project has involved hundreds of schools and community centers and received extensive media attention, spreading its message on both a grassroots and national scale. http://www.architectmagazine.com/architects/saints-march-in.aspx

2. Two major initiatives have been launched piloting Paydirt’s TLC methodology in New Orleans and Oakland, California:

Dr. Hunt is implementing an HUD-sponsored demonstration project in six severely lead-contaminated properties in New Orleans.

U.S. EPA Region IX Emergency Response is implementing Operation Paydirt’s TLC protocol in a residential neighborhood in Oakland, California.

These initiatives are opening opportunities for a solution to be realized on a larger scale.




3.  The project is currently working with partners to frame a second phase of the Fundred Dollar Bill campaign and the delivery of millions of Fundred Dollar Bills to Washington, D.C.