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A Blade of Grass Awards its Inaugural Distinguished Artist Fellowship to Mel Chin


A Blade of Grass is pleased to announce the award of its first Distinguished Artist Fellowship to Mel Chin in support of his monumental project Operation Paydirt! Chin will receive a $50,000 grant, along with a range of tailored resources and services including strategic assistance, assessment tools, video documentation and promotional support.

Distinguished Artist Fellowships are awarded by nomination to one or more artists per year who are realizing socially engaged art projects of distinction and significant scale. Distinguished Artist Fellowships recognize and support artists who demonstrate exceptional leadership and work actively in partnership with communities in ways that are ambitious, relevant in everyday life, and have specific goals for social change. Projects like Operation Paydirt serve as exemplary models of this kind of art practice, and help inform the dialogue about its transformative potential.

About Operation Paydirt

Mel Chin Operation Paydirt

Pictured: Artist Mel Chin created Safehouse in New Orleans to introduce Operation Paydirt. Photograph by Arthur Simons III.

Artist Mel Chin initiated Operation Paydirt and the Fundred Dollar Bill Project in 2006 to engage communities nationwide in a creative grassroots action to instigate solutions to the national crisis of lead contamination.  Over seven years, the project has grown from a viral initiative involving a few thousand children to over 400,000 participants across the country, advancing awareness of lead poisoning prevention and remediation practices.

As a social sculpture, Operation Paydirt draws on creative methods to raise awareness, build consensus among stakeholders, educate lawmakers on solutions, and use theatrical art performance to symbolically exchange “Fundred Dollar Bills” – original, hand drawn interpretations of $100 bills– for actual funding and solutions to childhood lead poisoning. In support of the Fundred Dollar Bill ProjectOperation Paydirt has developed interrelated initiatives that respond to the complexities of accomplishing real solutions to lead poisoning and contamination.

The role of A Blade of Grass in this Distinguished Fellowship is to provide targeted support that helps Chin to “make it real,” or bring Operation Paydirt to a fulfilling, meaningful conclusion that enacts social change. Chin is driven by the singular intention to see the threat of lead poisoning in the United States eliminated completely.

Over the next phase of his project, Chin plans to work in partnership with MIT’s CoLab to bring together stakeholders for a Make it Real Workshop. This workshop will be designed for a broad multi-disciplinary, cross-sector group to build consensus on the state of the lead problem, consolidate the evidence, and identify objectives and solutions to protect children from the hazard of lead contamination. His vision is to bring together innovators in urban planning, public health and epidemiology, communications, education, economics, criminology, social justice, and policy making, with experts and advocates focused on issues of lead contamination to undergird this conceptually-based process with rigorous medical and social science, economic evidence, data visualization and mapping that will greatly strengthen the effectiveness of Operation Paydirt’s creative approach. The workshop also lays the foundation for coalition building.

Broader Impact

A primary goal of A Blade of Grass is to extend the experience of socially engaged artworks beyond the immediate communities of impact and illustrate some of the distinct challenges and advantages presented by this practice. To this end, A Blade of Grass is looking to address the specific financial and professional needs of socially engaged artists at various stages of their projects and careers, as well as serve a larger discourse about the value of socially engaged art—how it works, what it looks like, and what it may accomplish.

Like the Distinguished Fellowship, the ABOG Fellowship for Socially Engaged Art offers both financial support and professional tailored resources to artists who are actively partnering with communities to enact social change. A Blade of Grass will select seven artists nationwide, via an open application process, to receive the ABOG Fellowship in March 2014, with the larger aim of exploring fifty socially engaged art projects within the next five years. 

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