Artists Rock Brownfields 2011 Conference

“Art can be about aesthetic beauty and also about changing the world.” — Gary Steuer, Chief Cultural Officer, City of Philadelphia
“We need to be more present in the world…encounter it.”— Amy Franceschini, Founder of Futurefarmers, Creator of Soil Kitchen

“It would cost $300 million to clean lead out of the contaminated ground in New Orleans. That’s what one day costs in the war in Iraq. I felt compelled into action.” — Mel Chin, Operation Paydirt/Fundred Dollar Bill Project

Art is about the shaping of consciousness. Before politics enter, before science enters, you have to change consciousness. This panel, Creativity and Development—Arts as an Economic Driver, was featured at the Brownfileds 2011 Conference on April 5. Organized and moderated by the Mt. Airy Art Garage, panelists discussed exactly these questions with over 150 scientists, artists, organic farmers, architects, and others in attendance at this session (over 7,000 participated in this conference held in the new wing of the Convention Center).

Mel Chin’s Call to Arms!

This distinguished panel spoke about the role of community collaborations, partnerships, the coming together of social and civic relationships, developing collective attitudes. They spoke to reconceiving systems to encourage sustainable development and the global implications of local reconstruction. The room was filled with imagination and inspiration.

Gary Steuer, Chief Cultural Officer for Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, spoke to art generating the economy while making us better citizens. He described various artists’ projects both locally and nationally, such as the Crane Building (built on Brownfields), that generate transformation in communities and society as a whole—social goals integrating with art.

Amy Franceschini makes things that matter. She believes in empowering the participants. So the design is no longer the object but the entire human experience. Amy, with Soil Kitchen, received the first-ever commission in Philadelphia for a temporary public art project, built to coincide with the Brownfields Conference.

Soil Kitchen is a windmill powered sculpture that invites you to imagine a green future while exchanging a soil sample (evaluated for contaminants by the EPA at the site) for soup. You find out about your soil contamination, and the City gets stats for the entire city as well. Take matters into your own hands; make the connections between the ground we live on and the food we eat.

Mel Chin’s art verifies science— he’s a world citizen and activist. He “speaks” guns with shovels as nozzles. He investigates how art can provoke greater social awareness, government funding, and change. His art challenges you to think, collaborate, participate. Operation Paydirt/Fundred Dollar Bill Project has high stakes—to rescue the lives of more than 30% of children in New Orleans contaminated by lead poisoning (even prior to Katrina!). And that rescue can eventually domino into other cities, like Philadelphia, contaminated as well.

Left to right: Linda Slodki, Gary Steuer, Mel Chin, Amy Franceschini


Mel feels “compelled into action.” With this particular project, you become transformed to create rescue for others. So how does it work? You download a fundred template and draw your own fundred dollar bill.

Or you can go to the Fabric Workshop to their “Philadelphia collections center,” draw it, and hang it on the wall alongside of hundreds of other fundreds. As Mel says, the project is not about him but about anyone who draws their own fundred dollar bill. And when $300 million fundreds are completed, they will be delivered to Congress, via armored trucks making pickups from schools and universities, art institutions, and community centers. Operation Paydirt will then ask Congress for an even exchange of real dollars to clean up the lead-polluted soil in New Orleans making it safe for the children. Here again, is art that makes you part of the solution, one fundred at a time. Mel Chin also announced that the Smithsonian has requested to permanently display and house the fundreds on completion.

Quite an event! Not only a contribution on sustainability, but art as a world change agent.