Creating a Socially Engaged Art Curriculum with Mel Chin & Cheryl Maney

In this Report from the Field, we continue our inside look at Distinguished Fellow Mel Chin’s collaborations while in residence at the McColl Center for Visual Art in Charlotte, North Carolina. Cheryl Maney, who helped implement Mel’s work into the curriculum at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, talked to us about working with students on Operation Paydirt.

A BLADE OF GRASS: What prompted you to get involved with Mel’s project, Operation Paydirt?

CHERYL MANEY: Our district was working with McColl Center for Visual Art which was hosting Mel Chin. They asked about our interest in participating. I also had heard from a videographer who was creating a video of Mel Chin, and he thought we might be interested in participating. We piloted the project in the spring of 2013 and then took it district wide in the fall of 2014.

ABOG: Why was it important to do this project with kids?

CM: In our district we promote personal voice in students’ art. We also promote collaboration. Each year as the Curriculum Specialist, I select a visual arts-based, socially engaged project for our teachers and students to participate in. We want our students to understand the power of art, the ability to express one’s voice through art, the effects of collaboration and how art can impact social issues.

ABOG: What was the kids’ response to Operation Paydirt? Did they understand the connection between what they were doing in the classroom and the problem of childhood lead poisoning?

CM: Yes, on a variety of levels. We implemented this in classes from kindergarten through 12th grade, so students understood at different levels. Many of the elementary students took it to heart, checking out their own environment. The high school students tended to look at it as more of a global issue, with some of the students investigating other social ‘justice’ art.

ABOG: Do you feel that the project will help promote social change?

CM: I think elementary students began to understand that art can have an impact. For many this was their first association with socially engaging art. For middle school students they liked the idea of collaboration and working together so some schools have done other project to have an impact either in their school or for other causes. The high school students that were introduced to this project began to understand as an artist how Mel Chin developed the concept that has grown out of him to be this ‘thing’ on its own. Some of them have investigated other conceptual artists that have social engaging art.

Because we implemented Operation Paydirt district wide in such a large district, we feel it brought some bonding to all of the teachers and students. It was a unique experience to complete a Fundred, knowing that students across the district were doing the same thing. The students really wanted to see what the total impact was.


Cheryl Maney is the Visual Arts and Dance Curriculum Specialist for Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools in Charlotte, North Carolina. She works with 250 visual arts teachers in 164 schools, serving 144,000 students. She also is the Supervision and Administration Division Director for the National Arts Education Association. Prior to working in the central office, she was the Integration Facilitator for University Park Creative Arts Magnet Elementary School. She resides in Concord, NC.


Draw your own Fundred! Click here to go to the Fundred website to get your template and get started!

So far, 450,000 people have taken part in Operation Paydirt’s Fundred Dollar Bill Project, each contributing their own hand-drawn interpretation of a hundred dollar bill. These artworks—tangible representations of the people’s will to stop lead poisoning—will be delivered to lawmakers in Washington, D.C., to be exchanged for funding and policy solutions that protect children from lead poisoning. Moving forward, Operation Paydirt’s goal is to generate between one and three million original Fundreds. These citizen-generated artworks will be presented to lawmakers as part of a coordinated advocacy campaign, in collaboration with national lead poisoning prevention partners.

See more Fundreds on the project’s Facebook page

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Mel ChinOperation PaydirtPolicyYouth
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