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"Paydirt"Mel Chin

June 19, 2008

Mel Chin describes the origins and motivations behind his nationwide art project Paydirt in a keynote address at the 2008 National Art Education Association Convention.

The high lead content in New Orleans’ soil—among the worst in the country—was exacerbated by the havoc wreaked by the 2005 hurricane. Discovering that “the disaster was in the soil before the disaster,” Chin felt compelled to do something. Speaking before a crowd of thousands of art educators from across the country, Chin recalls his disillusionment: “I remember standing in the ruins of the Ninth Ward and realizing as a creative individual that I felt hopeless and inadequate. And I was flooded by this terrible insecurity that being an artist was not enough to deal with the tragedy that was before me.” Thus Paydirt and its sister initiative, the “Fundred Dollar Bill Project” was born.

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Producer: Larissa Nikola-Lisa & Kelly Shindler. Camera: Larissa Nikola-Lisa. Sound: Wesley Swinnen. Editor: Lizzie Donahue & Larissa Nikola-Lisa.

Closed captionsAvailable in English, German, Romanian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian

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Mel Chin

Mel Chin’s art is both analytical and poetic and evades easy classification. Alchemy, botany, and ecology are but a few of the disciplines that intersect in his work. He insinuates art into unlikely places, including destroyed homes, toxic landfills, and even popular television, investigating how art can provoke greater social awareness and responsibility. Unconventional and politically engaged, his projects also challenge the idea of the artist as the exclusive creative force behind an artwork.

Art & Activism

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“Revival Field”

Artist Mel Chin discusses the inspiration for his 1991 land art piece, Revival Field.