Art21 Extended Play

Special report: Mel Chin’s “SAFEHOUSE”

Following is an exclusive update from Mel Chin‘s FUNDRED/PAYDIRT team on their latest New Orleans-based project, SAFEHOUSE. Written by Mary Rubin and Amanda Wiles, with photos by FUNDRED, Elliot Coon, and Arthur Simons.

News FlashA sculptural intervention transforming an entire house in the St. Roch neighborhood of New Orleans is scheduled to be unsealed during a national press conference on October 31, 2008 at 12:30pm. The level of security pertaining to the contents of the SAFEHOUSE is high, as it represents a sizable creative investment from the local community. The value of what is within this sculptural vault can only be estimated. While Mel Chin hesitates to reveal too much other than the release of this digital rendering, it is rumored to be part of a larger effort, $300 million in the making.


There was much going on in New Orleans last week as Mel Chin and his team worked to alter the fragile façade of 2461 North Villere Street (between Music and Art streets) into an operable safe door. The crew began staging the sculptural alteration of the house in September. Initial plans to introduce the project to the local community were interrupted when Hurricane Gustav appeared on the scene. When mandatory evacuation of the city was imposed, the community event was postponed and the crew was evacuated with the rest of the city’s population.

…so from Mel’s studio in North Carolina, the sculptural parts of SAFEHOUSE were fabricated. The crew arrived back in New Orleans on Tuesday, September 30 to begin the installation. By Thursday, the hinges were on and the façade was reinforced to accommodate the 10-foot diameter door. As the work progressed through the week, the neighborhood watched with curiosity.


ST. ROCH Love Where You Live – St. Roch Community Preview Event

By the morning of October 4, the crew had accomplished enough of the installation for the vault door to swing open that evening for a big event. This FUNDRED/PAYDIRT sponsored event was planned as a special St. Roch neighborhood preview of SAFEHOUSE in advance of the Prospect.1 Biennial.

At noon the street was closed for the party, which included a “Paradise” slippy slide (complete with palm trees and rainbows) and a table set for the community dinner planned for 100. Local chefs, Ms. Pat and Ms. Carol, renowned for their talent in the kitchen, cooked up a special menu that included redfish, fried chicken, jambalaya, greens, red beans, dirty rice, and a mean bread pudding.


With the SAFEHOUSE “done enough,” neighborhood favorite DJ Baby Boy set the scene performing at top volume and Mel started the dancing.


Just before sunset Mel led a group of excited youth to the steps of the house and cracked open the vault door to start a FUNDRED making fury. As some of us helped the kids with their FUNDRED artworks, the first of the anticipated 6000 FUNDREDS needed to entirely cover the walls were nailed on with gold tacks.


…the dancing, celebrating, and FUNDRED making continued ’til late in the evening and a good time was had by all!


Want to learn more about FUNDRED and PAYDIRT? Watch the videos.

More to come on the FUNDRED/PAYDIRT National Press Conference soon. Follow the project at