The Maine Arts Commission is working with school students across Maine to assist a nationwide public art project that aims to mitigate toxic soil contamination in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The Fundred Dollar Bill Project is raising nationwide awareness of the environmental threat of lead poisoning by collecting the funds necessary for a model remediation effort in New Orleans. Students and community members across the country are currently creating Fundred Dollar Bills – original, hand-drawn interpretations of $100 bills. K-12 teachers throughout the United States are working with Fundred as a focus in lesson plans on topics as varied as the history of money and the biology of dirt, using it as an important community service and service learning opportunity. The project will collect at least three million Fundreds or the equivalent of $300 million, the estimated cost of making the soil in New Orleans lead-safe.

On May 5, an armored truck, retrofitted to run on waste vegetable oil, will arrive at Maine’s Statehouse to pick up more than 7,000 bills created by Maine students. This will form part of an epic 17,000-mile cross-country trip that ends in the summer when the Fundred Bills are delivered to Washington, D.C. In Washington, a request will be made of Congress for an even exchange of the value of the art currency for actual funds and services to support the implementation of Operation Paydirt, a citywide landscape recovery program for New Orleans.

One of the most lead polluted cities in the U.S., New Orleans has an estimated 86,000 properties with dangerously high levels of lead in the soil, placing thousands of children at risk for lead-poisoning. Operation Paydirt’s scientific team has developed a soil remediation method that can make New Orleans lead-safe for children.

The Operation Paydirt and The Fundred Dollar Bill Project are led by internationally recognized artist Mel Chin. The Maine Arts Commission still has Fundred templates available for those who wish to be a part of this historic event. School teachers, community members and individuals can acquire templates by contacting the Maine Arts Commission’s Lindsay Rowe at 287-6720 or Lindsay.rowe@maine.gov. Completed Fundred Dollar Bills will need to be returned to the Maine Arts Commission by April 30.

VillageSoup Art/Entertainment Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail to dernest@villagesoup.com.