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Funny Money Makes a Difference

By Anna Morrill, Steven Schwering, Amelia Arthur


Mel Chin has over 5,000 hundred dollar bills in the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia. However, these are not actual United States currency. These bills are called "fundreds," fun hundreds that are fake hundred dollar bill templates decorated by museum visitors and pinned across the wall to call attention to problem of lead poisoning and it's effects through art.


Houston-based artist, Mel Chin, is collaborating with the Fabric Workshop Museum to create the "Fundred Dollar Bill Project," and aims to bring lead awareness to people, especially those affected first-hand from lead poisoning, a large majority of those being kids.


In 2004, Chin was sent to New Orleans, after hurricane Katrina, along with a group of artists and others from different organizations. Chin felt overwhelmed in the aftermath of such a disaster. "I felt inadequate," Chin remarked. Chin did research and discovered that there was a large amount of lead in the soil, a problem that has been present since before the storm (thirty percent of the children are directly affected by lead poisoning in New Orleans). Using further research, with the help of the scientific community, Chin devised a formula made of dead fish bones that, when mixed with the soil, actually prevents lead from being ingested and transferred throughout the body, preventing the side effects of lead poisoning. While highly costly, this new approach was a "green" way to stop the contaminated soil from being moved to large dumps, or worse, not dealt with at all.


Lead is one of the oldest known metals and occurs naturally on earth. Like most chemicals after their discovery, humans have begun to realize that using lead recklessly has posed greater problems for later generations. Lead has been used as a pesticide, in house paint, and in gasoline for decades. In urban environments, these uses of lead have created problems with the soil, proving them dangerous to human health. One of the main problems of lead exposure is contamination of soil, mainly from old lead-based paint that has deteriorated into smaller particles and has leaked into the ground. "My advice to people is to be over-cautious," advises soil expert Mike McGrath and host of WHYY's popular "You Bet Your Garden". McGrath tells people to look up the levels of lead that are harmful as suggested by the EPA, or even better, get the soil tested by one of your state soil testing programs.


Philadelphia, an urban area deeply affected by lead poisoning, has created progressive organizations to combat this growing problem. Due to the efforts of the Philadelphia Lead Abatement Strike Team (better known as LAST), created in 2002 due to the community's concerns with young children with high levels of lead in their blood, the organization discovered 1,400 properties as having "housing-based lead hazards," and no sign of remediation. LAST, in collaboration with officials, environmental agencies and members, and health and housing agents have successfully repaired 1,037 properties that housed 1,476 children demonstrating how perseverance and public opinion have the power to spark change. This public opinion and its voice is what helps the "Fundred Dollar Bill" Project to exist.


The "Fundred Dollar Bill" Campaign hopes to "engage your voice," and inspire people to develop their opinions creatively. Chin and his volunteers refuse donations, seeing as they stress that this is an issue that the government should take initiative because it is the people that are affected. Chin is not seeking gain or fame in return, "It's a project of the people, by the people for the people...art is not about one individual, it's the voice of millions."