Mel Chin, Operation Paydirt


Operation Paydirt addresses the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

Episode #016: Mel Chin describes the origins and motivations behind the nationwide art project Paydirt in a keynote address to the 2008 National Art Education Association Convention, and visits multiple sites in New Orleans adversely affected by both Hurricane Katrina and lead contamination in the soil. The high lead content of soil in New Orleans—among the worst in the country—was exacerbated by the havoc wreaked by the hurricane in 2005. Discovering that “the disaster was in the soil before the disaster,” Chin felt he had to do something about it as an artist. Speaking before a crowd of thousands of art educators from across the country, Chin recounts, “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. Learn more about Mel Chin: VIDEO | Producer: Larissa Nikola-Lisa & Kelly Shindler. Camera: Larissa Nikola-Lisa. Sound: Wesley Swinnen. Editor: Lizzie Donahue & Larissa Nikola-Lisa.

Cite this page as: Art21, "Mel Chin, Operation Paydirt," in Smarthistory, September 15, 2021, accessed May 18, 2024,