When the armored truck broke down in Virginia, Brian Banks was relieved. Banks, an academic advisor at the U-M School of Art and Design, is the local coordinator for the Fundred Dollar Bill Project. Merging art and advocacy, it’s asking volunteers around the county to create three million artistic interpretations of $100 bills. The plan is to present the “fundreds” to Congress to demonstrate public support for appropriating an equal amount of real money–$300 million–to clean up lead contamination in New Orleans. Lead levels increased significantly after Hurricane Katrina, as paint from flooded homes and cars leached the toxic metal into the soil.

An armored truck was due to pick up Ann Arbor’s contribution on March 31, and Banks wanted to have 7,000 fundreds ready. But a week before the pickup date, only a few hundred had trickled in, and Banks had yet to make his own–“I’ve got no artistic talent whatsoever,” he says. And the truck further complicated the problem. It had been modified to run on used vegetable oil, and Banks was supposed to provide that, too–but so far, he had only ten gallons sitting in a campus storage closet.

Thus his relief when he heard that the trouble-prone vehicle had broken down again. Instead, Fundred Project driver Tory Tepp arrived at the School of Art and Design in a rental car. Tepp told the thirty people on hand that so far the fundred vault contained less than 10 percent of the national goal. “We need everybody to hustle up,” he urged. “If we’re able to pull this off, we’ll be able to say that the public system was changed by art.”

Banks collected more than 1,000 fundreds in the final week, including nearly 600 made by students at Thurston and Logan elementary schools. Peace signs and manga were popular themes among the elementary set, although Thurston art teacher Sarah Altman was quick to draw the line at swords going through characters. The students also watched a video about the project and discussed the link between Katrina and lead contamination.

Breathing a little easier now that he didn’t have to round up any more vegetable oil, Banks finally got around to making his own fundred–a smiley face–which he quickly hid in the pile of 1,500 outgoing bills.