The Corcoran School of the Arts and Design announced Monday the selection of artist Mel Chin as the inaugural William Wilson Corcoran Visiting Professor of Community Engagement.
Mr. Chin brings more than 40 years of experience as an artist whose cross-disciplinary work defies boundaries in order to influence people’s realities and provoke greater social awareness and responsibility.
Throughout his prolific career, known for its fluidity and diversity, Mr. Chin has shown in solo exhibitions at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the Menil Collection in Houston. He has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Rockefeller Foundation, and his work has been documented in PBS’ “Art of the 21st Century.”
“Mel Chin embodies the values of creativity, innovation and empathy that the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design embrace,” Corcoran Director Sanjit Sethi said. “Mel is a passionate, creative practitioner who is dedicated to addressing some of the most pressing issues of our times, and I know he will be an invaluable resource to the students at the Corcoran and to the broader D.C. community.”
During his appointment in the 2016-2017 academic year, Mr. Chin will teach classes and collaborate with Corcoran students and faculty to design and execute a project that engages the Washington, D.C., community. While in D.C., Mr. Chin specifically hopes to expand on his “Operation Paydirt/Fundred Dollar Bill Project,” a nationwide, artist-driven plan to eliminate childhood lead poisoning.
With roots in post-Katrina New Orleans, where Mr. Chin was galvanized by the reality of more than 80,000 lead-contaminated residential properties, the project has expanded to other major U.S. cities and now encompasses a creative campaign to advance public education and engagement by encouraging individuals to create a special collection of hand-drawn currency, or Fundreds. These symbolic $100 bills represent the public voice speaking out against the problem of lead poisoning to those with the power to end it. The goal is to eventually exchange the created currency for real resources.
“Our project is not so much about the soil in New Orleans, or the houses in Detroit, or the relationship between lead and criminal activity that they discovered in Cincinnati, it’s about the value of human beings who are burdened by something that was no fault of their own,” said Mr. Chin, who added that he’ll work with Corcoran students and faculty to find ways to mobilize D.C. residents around the issue.
The William Wilson Corcoran Visiting Professor position builds on the school’s robust community engagement legacy and enables the Corcoran to drive social change at the local level. By engaging directly with the D.C. community, this position, as well as future Corcoran-backed programs, enhance the school’s ability to listen and respond to the city’s broader needs.
“This visiting professorship allows the Corcoran to bring exciting individuals that are committed to the role creativity plays in addressing complex issues,” Mr. Sethi said.
Funding for the three-year position comes from a grant administered by the Trustees of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Successive individuals selected for this role will be chosen from the expanding field of socially and publicly engaged art practice.
The Corcoran’s Chairman Harry Hopper said: "The Corcoran Trustees are excited and enthusiastic that Mel Chin will be the inaugural William Wilson Corcoran Visiting Professor of Community Engagement, a program we are proud to support and whose selection is the most recent example of a true commitment to actively supporting the Corcoran legacy as part of GW and the broader D.C. community."