Funny Money 

Students "counterfeit" hundred-dollar bills as part of a lead abatement plan.

Under most circumstances, making a bunch of phony hundred-dollar bills will get a person into big trouble. That hasn't stopped Rhodes College art professor David McCarthy from trying to generate as much funny money as he can.

McCarthy is the local organizer for Operation Paydirt, conceptual artist Mel Chin's plan to fund a lead remediation pilot program in New Orleans.

Under Chin's plan, described as the world's largest art/science project, organizers such as McCarthy are working with students from kindergarten to high school to create 300 million hundred-dollar bills that Chin calls "Fundreds." Locally, Sherwood and Alton elementaries have produced about 500 of the fake bills.

In June, an armored truck full of Fundreds will drive into Washington, D.C., and Chin will ask Congress to exchange the Fundreds for real money.

"This is the kind of art project teachers can use to build lesson plans," McCarthy says, suggesting the project can be used to teach everything from the history of the country's monetary system to how the environment is impacted by the decisions we make.

Operation Paydirt began in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Chin was one of several artists invited to New Orleans to develop creative solutions to problems created by the disaster. But Chin started thinking about problems that both predated Katrina and were shared by other cities.

Even pre-Katrina, more than 30 percent of the inner-city children in New Orleans were affected by lead poisoning, and billions are spent annually in America on lead abatement. Lead poisoning has been linked to reading disorders, as well as higher rates of behavioral problems.

Operation Paydirt aims to use New Orleans as the test site for a remediation strategy called Treat Lock Cover, which locks the lead in "stable, bio-unavailable mineral formations" that cannot be absorbed in the bloodstream. If effective, the process could be used in other cities.

Any teachers or schools interested in participating in the project should contact David McCarthy at Rhodes College (843-3663 or mccarthy@rhodes.edu).

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