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Operation Paydirt Picture Show Operation Paydirt Picture Show

Operation Paydirt Picture Show

January 22, 2009 at 13:16

Like thousands of Americans, the artist Mel Chin traveled to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to see how he could help. However, once there, he found a problem that was present long before the storm ever hit: hazardous levels of lead, in some cases five times higher than the Environmental Protection Agency's threshold, in soil around some 86,000 homes. Now working with area scientists, Chin hopes to treat the soil so that the lead is locked into a mineral formation that can't be absorbed by the human body and then cover it with clean earth. Named Operation Paydirt, the project's biggest obstacle is price-$300 million.To encourage the federal government to pony up the funds, Chin has launched a campaign to produce Fundred Dollar Bills-interpretations of hundred dollar bills drawn by children across the country. ("Fundred" is a portmanteau of "fun," "fund," and "hundred.") The first 6,000 bills, created by people in New Orleans, are presently plastered across the walls of Chin's Safehouse-a residence in the St. Roch neighborhood that he has transformed into a functioning vault. Once 3 million bills have been created, Chin will drive across the country in an armored truck converted to run on cooking oil (filling up at school cafeterias as he goes) to collect and deliver the 7,000 pounds of drawings to Washington. "We will present them and say ‘These are three million creative expressions that have value,'" he explains. "And then we'll ask for an even exchange." He hopes to have his creative cash in hand by October, 2009.Learn more at Fundred.org.Top Image: Each Fundred Dollar Bill is a unique, artistic interpretation of a hundred dollar bill that will be delivered to Congress along with a request for an "even exchange" of funds to solve the problem of lead contaminated soil in New Orleans.

First graders at Langston Hughes Academy Charter School in New Orleans creating Fundred Dollar Bills for Operation Paydirt.

Safehouse is a powerful sculptural icon of Operation Paydirt in New Orleans's flood-wrecked and lead-laden neighborhood of St. Roch.  This house, transformed into a bank vault by conceptual artist Mel Chin, is located at 2461 North Villere St., New Orleans.

A crowd awaits the October 31, 2008 opening of Safehouse.

The conceptual artist Mel Chin opens the vault at Safehouse.

Safehouse contains thousands of Fundred Dollar Bills designed in New Orleans to support Operation Paydirt, each bill being a unique work of art.

The arrival of a refurbished armored car retrofitted to run on used cooking oil begins the national press conference to open Safehouse.Photos: Amanda Wiles
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