Nominate an Ambassador for Health in All Policies


Nominate an Ambassador for Health in All Policies

Louisville won the Culture of Health prize from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 2016. This award recognized the work that people are doing all around our city to make Louisville a healthier place.
The next step in this journey is to recruit more people to the cause. The Health Ambassadors program is looking for people who are changing neighborhoods and workplaces to make these places healthier. This work covers everything from planting gardens to starting walking clubs to teaching conflict resolution skills.

Do you know an individual who would make a good Ambassador? This award is not one to collect dust on a shelf. We’re looking for people who are creative, active and engaged in the community. Do you know a good candidate?
Use this form to nominate yourself or another person. It’s a simple process:

  1. Select the type of Health Ambassador – student, community, or corporate
  2. Answer 3 questions
  3. Share contact information

The program is free. The time commitment is 2 – 3 hours per year. The main responsibility of an Ambassador is to spread the word about the good work he or she is doing in our city. The first class of Ambassadors will be announced in April. We’ll announce a second group later this year at the Health Ambassadors Summit. At this gathering, the Ambassadors will share their own work with the group and take new ideas back to their workplaces, families and community groups. The most important task for these Ambassadors is to help make Louisville a healthier and happier place by taking action and changing the traditional idea of health. It’s free to participate.

The Institute and our community partners review the nominations and announce the first class in April. All nominees and contact information will be kept confidential until the class is announced.


One Poem At A Time launches April 1


One Poem At A Time launches April 1

One of eleven One Poem At A Time billboards throughout Louisville's Smoketown neighborhood.

One of eleven One Poem At A Time billboards throughout Louisville's Smoketown neighborhood.

One Poem At A Time - a new public health policy initiative of IDEAS xLab and Creative Agents of Change Foundation - replaces negative and predatory advertising and billboards in Louisville’s Smoketown neighborhood with positive photographs and poetry depicting Smoketown community members and lifting up their voices.   

“Walking through Smoketown, I was overwhelmed with the signs that filled the community," said poet Hannah Drake, a Cultural Producer & Strategist with IDEAS xLab. "Signs encouraging people to sell their homes for cash, signs encouraging those with diabetes to sell their test strips, billboards for a multitude of lawyers, drug sniffing dogs, among many others.”  

Informed by the community-based participatory nature of Project HEAL (Health. Equity. Art. Learning.), One Poem At A Time was developed by Drake with inspiration, feedback and input from Smoketown residents and community members through arts and culture events, meetings and surveys in 2016 and early 2017. 

"Through Project HEAL, arts and cultural production become a 'language' with which communities define, develop, and champion their own sustainable strategies for improved well-being," explained IDEAS xLab CEO and co-founder Theo Edmonds on how artists are becoming catalysts to spark collective action via Project HEAL.   

The launch of One Poem At A Time, which is FREE and open to community members on April 1, 2017 includes a guided Smoketown Poetry Walk past many of the new billboards, The Smoketown Monologues, and a conversation focused on bringing together residents, community stakeholders and policy-makers to explore policy and ordinance changes that could restrict negative/predatory advertising in low-income communities like Smoketown.   
State Representative Attica Scott, Councilperson Barbara Sexton Smith and Director of Metro Louisville's Office for Health & Safety Neighborhoods Rashaad Abdur-Rahman will facilitate the discussion that will further fuel the communities drive toward policy change.  

"If we are to heal our communities across Kentucky -- from rural to urban -- we must focus on health, equity and justice at the grassroots," said State Representative Attica Scott (D-41). "I know that blight exists across our state and Smoketown, just like every other neighborhood, is worthy of policies that respect neighborhood beautification and economic development."  

"It is our responsibility to help create a safe, healthy environment for ALL our neighbors. Positive messaging reinforces positive choices,” said Barbara Sexton Smith, Fourth District Metro Councilwoman of One Poem At A Time. “When children are encouraged to love themselves they are more likely to be compassionate toward others." 

“The Smoketown Neighborhood Association supports One Poem At A Time’s community-based, participatory approach to the development of a positive neighborhood identity with Smoketown residents,” shared Randall Weber, President of the Smoketown Neighborhood Association.  

For more information on the launch of One Poem At A Time visit  

One Poem At A Time Launch Details:  

Location: Smoketown Unity Monument   
(Boxing Gloves) at Hancock/Lampton St.  
10am - 3:30pm  
Mammogram screenings provided by the Kentucky Cancer Program, to schedule an appointment call, 852-6318. 
12:30pm - 1pm  
Historical Poetry Walk highlighting landmarks in the Smoketown community while exploring the new billboards.  
Smoketown Monologues featuring stories of challenge and triumph created with and inspired by community members.  
2pm – 3pm  
Community conversation with policy makers about predatory advertising in our community.  

Vivian Lasley-Bibbs, Branch Manager and Epidemiologist for the Kentucky Department for Public Health Office of Health Equity presents proclamation from the Governor of Kentucky declaring April as Minority Health Month in the commonwealth.     

Festivities also include screen printing with Steam Exchange, snacks + water station, health resources and screenings.  
Supporters of Project HEAL and One Poem At A Time include:  
Health Impact Project Implementation Grant from Pew Charitable Trust and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation  
The Educational Foundation of America  
Sutherland Foundation  
KentuckyOne Health  
Owsley Brown III  
Jim and Libby Voyles  
Fund for the Arts   
New Directions Housing Corporation  
Institute for Healthy Air, Water and Soil  
Private donations through Creative Agents of Change Foundation, Inc.


Four Ways Artists Can Help Heal Communities


Four Ways Artists Can Help Heal Communities

Cover photo of Smoketown Women's Mural by Steam Exchange.

Originally posted by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on March 2, 2017. Authored by IDEAS xLab co-founders Theo Edmonds and Josh Miller. 

Leaders from Louisville—one of seven winners of the 2016 Culture of Health Prize—share how artists can play a role in creating healthier, more equitable communities.

Andrew Cozzens' Smoketown Life|Line Project. 

Andrew Cozzens' Smoketown Life|Line Project. 

Our Louisville, Kentucky, neighborhood of Smoketown sits across the street from the largest concentration of health care services in our state. Yet people here live 9 years less than the typical Louisville resident. Poverty, racism, unemployment and other social determinants of health have created this gap between residents of Smoketown and those from more affluent parts of the city.

An artist’s creativity has helped make that disparity concrete. Andrew Cozzens’ Smoketown Life Line Project documents the impact of trauma on many aspects of people’s lives and health, as revealed through interviews with more than 20 local residents.

You see the impact in metal rods of different lengths—each representing the length of one community member’s life. Crimps in the rods marked with bands of color represent adverse experiences—violence (red), addiction (white), incarceration (black), trauma (blue)—showing how lives have, in effect, been shortened.

Cozzens created the project as part of Project HEAL (Health. Equity. Art. Learning.), a three-year framework through which trained artists can help communities identify their health priorities and unearth complex issues through sometimes tough conversations. Ultimately, Project HEAL uses the arts to enable communities to work toward health equity, hand-in-hand with policymakers, health care institutions, nonprofits, and others.

Read the full article via RWJF here.


TEDMED 2016 Recap 2


TEDMED 2016 Recap 2

Kristen Augspurger of Humana’s Innovation team and Theo Edmonds of IDEAS xLab shared their TEDMED learnings as part of the Digital Center of Excellence’s (DCoE’s) recurring lunch and learn series.

After Kristen recapped the key themes of this year’s meeting (Click here for article 1), Theo shared how those themes are already being applied in communities across the country thanks to Humana’s Bold Goal efforts and the work of Louisville’s IDEAS xLab.

Photo by Tyrone Turner, courtesy of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Photo by Tyrone Turner, courtesy of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

What if?

Given “What if?” was the theme of this year’s meeting, Theo posed the question: “What if we understood health and well-being as culturally created, not professionally prescribed?”

He talked about the need to create flexible vs. prescriptive models – so people do the things they naturally want to do versus the things we need them to do.

“We like to pretend there’s a monolith out there and that we can create change by treating everyone the same, but that’s not the case,” says Edmonds. “People don’t wake up wanting to be healthy as a goal. They want to do the things that are meaningful for them. And that’s different for everyone.”

This is why organizations like IDEAS xLab and Humana have partnered with local communities to address issues that are important to them.

“We know that health happens locally, which is why we are convening physicians, non-profit and government leaders across seven communities, each with their own unique set of chronic conditions and barriers to health,” says Pattie Dale Tye, segment vice president of Humana’s Bold Goal team. “By addressing barriers to health like food insecurity, loneliness, transportation, and access to quality care with our community partners, we are hoping to solve some of today’s toughest health problems.” 

Approaching Community Health from a New Angle

Louisville-based IDEAS xLab is exploring problems like these from a new angle. They provide a framework for art and health innovation that brings together corporations, communities and artist innovators. They’ve spent the last four years training and placing artists inside corporations and communities – bringing the creative process into problem solving.

“Our belief is that innovation is not solely a technological or design issue, it also has to factor in human behavior; things that can positively or negatively impact health aren’t always intuitively associated with it,” says Edmonds.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation finds that health care access and quality account for just 20% of health outcomes while physical environment and socioeconomic factors contribute half.

Much like Humana’s Bold Goal team, Edmonds and team are exploring culture-based solutions for addressing health inequities – differences in health affected by social, economic, and environmental conditions.

Specific to Louisville, Edmonds and Humana are part of several Health Advisory Boards (HAB) throughout the southeast. Born from a series of Clinical Town Halls Humana convened in 2015 and 2016, the boards are comprised of community stakeholders invited to discuss barriers to health in their respective cities. Louisville’s HAB has been working to address issues like asthma and behavioral health. In November of last year, they convened their first Suicide Summit. 

Project HEAL America

Additionally, IDEAS xLab has partnered with the University of Louisville School of Public Health & Information Science’s to establish the Center for Art + Health Innovation (CAHI) and its flagship program: Project HEAL America.

“It’s a 3-year, community-based, participatory action research model using arts and culture as a tool of activation and catalyzation to increase social cohesion and community capacity to effect change,” says Edmonds. “Our theory is that health is culturally created.”

Project Heal responds to 3 trends: health disparities that inhibit economic growth, shifting population demographics and lack of jobs in the arts sector and decreased arts funding.

CAHI plans to deploy the research model in five regions of the U.S. to promote community discussion about health, collect and analyze community data, and facilitate development and implementation of a health action plan.

“We anticipate that making health a shared community value, fostering place-based collaboration, and pioneering new relationships between communities and health systems will result in a new funding model between the arts and health sectors,” said Edmonds. “We’re not creating anything new, just framing it differently; turning aspirational arts programming into operational public health strategies.”

Making Progress in Smoketown

Edmonds referenced the Smoketown community in Louisville – where the life expectancy of residents is 9 years less than the Louisville average (despite bordering the downtown campus’ of all the city’s major health systems) – as an example for where opportunity exists.  

The first step though, according to Edmonds is learning about the community from its members; asking where they want to start, what’s important to them.

“People, especially seniors, want to talk about their knowledge, not their health,” says Edmonds. “They know more about the neighborhood than you’ll get from any data set. It’s valuable, qualitative data, if you choose to treat it that way.”

For instance, IDEAS xLab’s Health Equity Strategist, poet Hannah Drake, has been working for the past year with people in Smoketown to understand why many didn’t want to go out and walk more in the neighborhood. What she learned, was that the community was surrounded with billboards and signs for gun shows, cheap attorneys, or how to sell your diabetic testing strips for cash.

“This kind of messaging creates toxic stress in the community,” Edmonds says. “So we started with community beautification and safety. Now, Hannah is creating a program where negative billboards will be replaced by positive messages from local poets, created with members of the Smoketown neighborhood.”

Simultaneously, IDEAS xLab and its partners are working on a policy change initiative that will mitigate the negative health impact of predatory advertising in low income communities. 

This is just one example of how artists and cultural workers can help a community prioritize issues related to the social determinants and catalyze a culture of health in neighborhoods.

Measuring Success

The success of Project HEAL will be measured by:

·      Increased community capacity to address the social determinants of health

·      Improved community health through long-term chronic disease reduction resulting in decreased healthcare costs

·      Improved, sustainable funding streams for community arts/culture production

·      Increased economic resilience of the business sector through improved workforce productivity

“We think that the places where people live, work, worship and learn can be activated as networks that prompt organic change,” says Edmonds. “We want to rally people around causes that they choose and want to work on. IDEAS xLab and our partners provide the evidence, research and tools to support real systems change thinking.”

It’s easy to see the parallels between Project HEAL and Humana’s Bold Goal efforts. In Bold Goal communities, impact is being measured by “Healthy Days” – a tool used by the CDC for decades that looks at a person’s physical and mental health over a 30-day period.

Changing people’s behaviors takes a collective impact and Humana and IDEAS xLab are helping to lead the way,” says Dr. Andrew Renda, director on the Bold Goal team. “Through our work, we know that there is a direct correlation between a person’s physical and mental health and where they live, work, and play. It takes all parts: art, business, government, the community, and the individual to invest in better health outcomes, which is why this work is so exciting and complex.”


TEDMED 2016 Recap 1


TEDMED 2016 Recap 1

Kristen Augspurger of Humana’s Innovation team and Theo Edmonds of IDEAS xLab shared their TEDMED learnings as part of the Digital Center of Excellence’s (DCoE’s) recurring lunch and learn series.

They also shared how many of these principles are already being applied in real life thanks to Humana’s Bold Goal efforts and the work of Louisville’s IDEAS xLab.

At this year’s event, Theo Edmonds accepted the Robert Wood Johnson Culture of Health prize for Louisville on behalf of IDEAS xLab, Greater Louisville Project, Community Foundation of Louisville and KentuckyOne Health. Humana, YMCA, Louisville Urban League, Louisville Metro Government Center for Health Equity, University of Louisville School of Public Health & Information Sciences, YouthBuild Louisville and others played important roles in supporting Louisville’s efforts during the year-long application process.

Louisville was selected from nearly 200 communities across the country for the prestigious prize which recognizes commitment to health equity, data-driven decision making, collective impact models, violence prevention efforts and for IDEAS xLab’s innovation in engaging artists to improve health. Learn more

Recap 1 features an overview by Kristen on the 7 talk tracks from TEDMED:

·      Invisible health (What if we could expose and confront invisible threats to health?) “This session was about aspects that often go unaddressed and can be hard to track or measure – environmental toxins, poverty, suicide,” said Kristen. “How do we get in front of these things before they have a detrimental impact?“

·      Audacious (What if visionaries ruled the world?) – “TEDMED has a group called The Hive that presented – innovators who are driving start-ups. They are focused on a lot of the same things our innovation team is here at Humana,” said Kristen. “People from digital, biomedical and life sciences spoke about their vision for improving health in new and different ways.”

·      New Models (What if we re-examine the way we frame health challenges?) – “Robotic vision, homelessness (how do we remove it altogether), and there was a lot on mental illness – how do we identify different ways to track it, diagnose it, address it before it has a debilitating impact on people’s health and people’s lives,” said Kristen.

“There was also a great speaker from Duke who talked about how medical marijuana is dispensed as a model for mainstream healthcare,” said Kristen. “He wrote a whole book about their flexibility with prescribing, how they educate people really purposefully, how they’re bringing the patient to the forefront.

·      Endgame (What if we possess the knowledge to be the architects of our aging and (eventual) deaths?) – “This was everything from how do we redefine how we plan our funerals to really embracing death as a part of what we do – not as a negative, but as positive thing,” said Kristen.

·      Fringe (What if the outer edges of human experience could provide solutions to everyday health challenges?) – “How do we venture out to unexpected areas of the way we live – thinking about things like art and adventure – to address health?’” recalled Kristen. “One of the presenters had travelled the globe and spoke about extreme altruism. How can we take the thoughts and insights of people way outside of health and apply them to our work?”

·      Social Scene (What if we could create a stronger culture of health by addressing its social and environmental factors?) – “We learned just how much where you live, your community and where you were born impacts health,” said Kristen. “There’s a lot still being discovered in this realm – particularly with regard to isolation.”

·      Truth and Beauty (What if we found beauty while confronting difficult truths?) – “I really loved this one – because it was about being really honest,” said Kristen. I thought it applied so much to our work with chronic conditions – being able to acknowledge a difficult diagnosis and how we can share. It resonated a lot as we think about our member populations.”

She then went on to share the top 4 topics that applied most directly to the work underway at Humana:

·      “Mindfulness came to forefront – how it really impacts so much of our health. From how a medicine is going to work, to how accepting you are of a diagnosis, to facing the reality of dying. It can really influence things. Acceptance and the research on mindfulness were recurring themes.”

·      Mental health – “One of the most powerful talks was the mother of the student responsible for the mass shooting at Columbine,” said Kristen. “She’s become a huge advocate for mental health and spoke about how we diagnose and track mental illness – much like we track steps today. Her own personal journey and the radical healing she’s undergone was powerful.”

·      End of life – “There’s a lot of focus on this already at Humana, but there was so much discussion on how to help people choose the experiences they want,” said Kristen. “We do all this planning around finances – we save money, we buy life insurance – but we don’t plan for dying. There’s a clear opportunity to help our members do that and make it a positive, not a negative, thing.”

·      Research – “There’s a lot of disruption happening with research, from who’s driving it to how it’s getting funded. There’s data that’s enabling medication to be made faster or determining what medication works best for you before you even take it. We should be driving some of that with our data. We need to be there disrupting instead of being disrupted.”

The theme of TEDMED 2016 was “What if?” – asking aspirational questions to imagine new possibilities.

To end the meeting, Kristen and Theo shared some of their own “What if?” questions and encouraged attendees to do the same. Below are the ones that were gathered.

Be sure to add your own “What if?” to the comments on this article!

What if…

·      … changing the way we treat others (i.e. being respectful and kind) could be seen as improving health?

·      … we could overcome TRUST issues with consumers?

·      … we used Google Glass to help diabetics make good decisions daily (including computations, food choices, etc.)?

·      … Humana could help with opioid crisis in the U.S.?

·      … all Humana associates were connected to the members and communities we serve (i.e. not just those in consumer-facing roles or on the Bold Goal team)?

·      … we were open with our members about the economics of healthcare?  If you are healthier, Humana makes more money—but you are healthier!

·      … every bill in Congress carried a community health rating (like calorie counts on menus)?

·      … we lived in a world where healthcare wasn’t the primary news headline each night?

·      … we could be truly connected as one with Providers and Consumers?

·      … we could truly put the consumer in the middle and give them access to all of their health info?


NEA Our Town 2016 - Natchez, MS


NEA Our Town 2016 - Natchez, MS

IDEAS xLab, City of Natchez, MS and Natchez Art Association one of 64 National Endowment for the Arts Our Town projects selected nationwide

National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman Jane Chu announced 64 awards totaling $4.3 million supporting projects across the nation through the NEA's Our Town program.  IDEAS xLab is one of the recommended organizations for an award of $50,000 to support the creation and implementation of an art + health initiative called "Cultural Blueprint for Health", in partnership with the City of Natchez, Natchez Art Association, Natchez Association for the Preservation of Afro-American Culture & Museum, Alcorn State University Farmers Market, and Humana.

The Our Town grant program supports creative placemaking projects that help to transform communities into lively, beautiful, and resilient places with the arts at their core. The NEA received 240 applications for Our Town this year and will make awards ranging from $25,000 to $100,000.

"For six years, Our Town has made a difference for people and the places where they live, work, and play," said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. "Projects such as the one led by IDEAS xLab and its Natchez partners will help to find new ways to engage the arts to spark health and vitality in the community."

The Cultural Blueprint for Health (CBH) is a collaboration between artists, community members, municipal leaders, local business owners and health professionals and informed by Humana's collaborative efforts to improve the health of the residents in Natchez-Adams County. CBH seeks to demonstrate the economic viability and cultural value of a new model for integrating artists into the health sector through the identification and engagement of select artists as "cultural innovators for health" within the Natchez community. A specific focus will be given to issues of health equity among disproportionately affected low-income communities of color who make up 51% of the total population of Natchez

"Including artists is an integral part of our community's drive to better health outcomes, especially as we celebrate our Tricentennial year," said Larry "Butch" Brown, Sr. Mayor of the City of Natchez.

"The Cultural Blueprint for Health is guided by a theory of change that acknowledges community traditions, cultural heritage, collective action among residents and intentional engagement between the arts and business communities as necessary components for improving health outcomes and increasing health equity," said Theo Edmonds, co-founder of IDEAS xLab. "We look forward to working with our Natchez partners in their Tricentennial year."

The Cultural Blueprint for Health project is also designed to build capacity in the Natchez-based arts and culture partners to help them support their community's drive to better health. Natchez partners will become part of IDEAS xLab's growing network of artists and culture producers and public health professionals developing best practices toward a national movement for putting artists to work as social entrepreneurs advocating for health equity in public policy, developing culturally-aware health systems design and advancing health as a key component of community development strategies.

For a complete list of projects recommended for Our Town grant support, please visit the NEA web site at The NEA's online resource, Exploring Our Town (, features case studies of more than 70 Our Town projects along with lessons learned and other resources.

About City of Natchez, MS:
Natchez, Mississippi is federally designated as a Preserve America Community. Located in Adams County; it is the oldest town on the Mississippi River. This year, Natchez celebrates its 300th anniversary with a year of festivities to showcase and connect people to their roots and heritage while setting a path for expanded opportunities in the future for Natchez residents and visitors.

About IDEAS xLab:
IDEAS xLab is a catalytic artist-innovation company supporting equitable places and healthy people. Through parallel engagement with corporations, communities and governments, IDEAS xLab's framework for artist-led innovation empowers artists to extend their reach, deepen their impact, and fundamentally improve society.

About Natchez Art Association:
The Natchez Art Association (NAA) is a group of volunteers dedicated to growing the visual arts in the area through art education and practice of art making. Primary activities include: community outreach programs, workshops and exhibits. NAA is inclusive of all races, classes and backgrounds and strives to use art as a tool of democratization.

About Humana:
As part of its 2020 Bold Goal - to improve the health of the people and communities it serves 20 percent by 2020 - Humana, one of Mississippi's leading health benefits companies, kicked off a collaborative effort in 2015 to improve the health of the residents in Natchez-Adams County, Mississippi. The multi-year initiative has been working with people in and around Natchez, Miss. to remove barriers to well-being and improve the health of all Mississippians.  In March 2016, the Humana Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Humana, provided a one-year, $250,000 charitable grant to the City of Natchez to implement the Adams County Diabetes and Heart Disease Intervention Program. For more on Humana's 2020 goal, visit


Health Justice, Time Poverty and A Way Forward.


Health Justice, Time Poverty and A Way Forward.

IDEAS xLab co-founder, Theo Edmonds, on the front porch of his grandparents' country store in rural Appalachia. Circa 1979.

IDEAS xLab co-founder, Theo Edmonds, on the front porch of his grandparents' country store in rural Appalachia. Circa 1979.

This is the first in a series of editorial essays by IDEAS xLab's team exploring the roots of why each of us, as individuals, have come to do the work that we do.  First in the series is IDEAS xLab co-founder and Kentucky artist, Theo Edmonds. 


My granny is 97 this year. Papaw died more than a decade ago. For 50+ years, they ran a little country store in rural Appalachia where most everyone was poor. The store was next door to a school, built not long after the civil war. It's where granny went (1st-12th grade). Education was a value. The entire community took part in making sure it happened for young people. Granny was postmistress and mentor to generations of kids who came to her for help with almost everything. If she didn't know the answer, she would work with them to figure it out.

Papaw would regularly take people in our community the 15 or so miles back and forth to town for doctor's appointments. He would haul coal to help people stay warm in winter. I never saw Papaw say no to anyone who needed help. Papaw himself had been raised by his grandmother in Alabama. His mother died in childbirth and his father was not around much. In part, I am convinced this is where his deep humanity came from.

In this little mountain community, it was understood that we were all in this life together. If one family needed help, it wasn't just their problem. Everyone had a role to play in helping to solve it. This is how granny and papaw lived their lives.

They were part of an informal community support network who worked together - farmers, teachers, preachers, artisans and the like - to reduce poverty, improve health, and increase education and access to information. 

This integrated social network helped everyone to have more TIME to accomplish things in life that were meaningful because the work to be done was distributed.

As a result, generations of families in our poor Appalachian community were able to go on to college and pursue dreams of every shape and size. And, everyone has dreams. Dreams are not a one size that fits all thing.


For all of our discussions about the effects of poverty, "time poverty" is one of the things that I believe we are not yet talking about in a meaningful way.

In a recent article from The Atlantic, Derek Thompson writes:

"The world has its thesis on wealth inequality. But it lacks a comprehensive way to talk about something larger - the myriad forces that exacerbate inequality that have nothing to do with "capital."

Let's call it Total Inequality.

Total Inequality is not merely income inequality (although it matters) nor merely wealth inequality (although that matters, too). Total Inequality would refer to the sum of the financial, psychological, and cultural disadvantages that come with poverty. Researchers cannot easily count up these disadvantages, and journalists cannot easily graph them. But they might be the most important stories about why poverty persists across time and generations.

It's expensive to be poor - in ways that are often quantitatively invisible. 

Research on the psychology of poverty suggests that not having enough money changes the way that people think about time. 

It's hard to prepare for the next decade when you're worried about making it to next Monday.”


We all have 24 hours a day.

In poor communities, making the healthy choice the easy choice may be a luxury if a person is working two jobs. 

Time poverty is further compounded in many communities of color. 

Due to the structural racism in governmental policies that resulted in the mass incarceration of generations of African-American men, there are high rates of single parent households headed by women. Then, when you add in sexism, which causes women to earn less than their male counterparts in the workplace, it becomes easier to understand the systems at play.

The cumulative effects of the "isms" in general (Racism, Sexism, Classism, Ableism, Ageism, Heterosexism, etc.) are literally killing us.

We all have a limited number of years in a lifetime.

In communities of color, like Louisville's Smoketown, it is a statistical fact that the average life expectancy is about 9 years less than the average for the city of Louisville. There are roughly 2700 people who live in Smoketown. Just doing some basic math, this means that cumulatively, the families that live here have 24,000 less years than other communities. 

24,000 less years to live, work, worship, learn and play.

Circumstances are cumulative. Parents are caught in a whirlpool of poverty which prevents them from escaping to the middle class when they grow up.  Thus, catching children in the same cycle.

The silver lining is that the logic of Total Inequality suggests that interventions should be cumulative, as well. For example, when a person has the family and social support systems in place to help them finish college, they triple the chances that their child will finish college. Those with higher educational attainment also have a longer life expectancy. 

Family and Social Support. Educational Attainment. Place-based jobs. These have been proven to increase both life expectancy and quality of life.  


Over the past couple of years, IDEAS xLab focused on innovative arts projects that helped us understand health in a new way.

This work resulted in a different kind of framework for deploying artists to support increased social connectivity, educational attainment and place-based job creation as the core elements of a new kind of health justice initiative called My Healthy Days.

Being healthy is not a "goal" for most people. So, the healthcare industry needs to stop treating it that way.

The goal for most of us is doing things in life that have meaning. Health helps us do the things we care about or holds us back. Different things are meaningful to different people. One size does not fit all.

Health, when combined with creativity and empowerment, transforms what a person can't do into what a person (or community) can do. 

This is why health justice is also good business. 

Healthy, creative, empowered communities can more fully participate in the economy. When all communities are able to fully participate, it creates a more diversified workforce. Diversity is the fuel of innovation and the cornerstone of resilient, integrated economies. 


Led by groups like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, there is currently a national movement to build a culture of health in America. It is driven by the belief that true progress is made when we work together toward a shared goal which is valued and advanced by collaborators from all sectors. My Healthy Days© introduces a critical ally in the movement to establish a new culture - artists.

This coming Saturday, April 9, marks an important next step in IDEAS xLab's process. Together with a wide range of cross sector partners, we will begin a 6 month community organizing process in Smoketown. Our goal over the next six months is simple. Organize people and resources in order to Create Human-Centered Community Health Development Plan With Arts/Culture as the Unifying Strategy.



National Planning Grant to Increase Health Equity

1 Comment

National Planning Grant to Increase Health Equity

The Creative Innovation Zone, a partnership between YouthBuild Louisville and IDEAS xLab originally funded by ArtPlace America, together with The Special Project, announced today that it received $45,000 planning grant from the Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts. The grant provides funding and other support for a health impact assessment process to develop a "Cultural Blueprint for Health" -- an evidence-based action plan for integrating artist innovation into community health in order to address disparities in health outcomes with the goal of increasing family and social support and community safety. 

1 Comment

It's not about one thing... It's about everything!


It's not about one thing... It's about everything!

The healthcare industry is routinely criticized from almost every direction. 

  • Nearly $3 trillion dollars is spent annually on healthcare in the US.
  • Productivity losses related to personal & family health problems cost US employers $1,685 per employee per year, or $225.8 billion annually.
  • Annually, Starbucks spends more on employee health benefits than on coffee.
  • Annually, GM spends more on employee health than on steel.

Most people can agree that our health system is overwhelmed. Within the next 10 years, if current trends continue, 1 in 2 American's will have undiagnosed prediabetes or diabetes.

Most people can agree that mental health issues still carry stigma and therefore, go untreated.

Most people can agree that those who can afford more healthcare, get more healthcare.

It doesn't have to be this way.

Despite what big-pharma may say, there is no magic pill that will "fix" our healthcare system.  Health is created not just in the clinical setting, health is created in the day to day way we live our lives.  According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the circumstances into which we are born and the places in which we live have more impact on our life expectancy than most any other thing.

Many of us have old recipe cards in our kitchens. Some cards were written by grandmothers who are no longer with us. Some are recipes for dishes that have been served as staples at church dinners since anyone can remember. On these cards are written family histories and cultural touchstones. These smells, tastes and memories are part of us. When we cook old family recipes, many of which are unhealthy, we are connecting to our very identities. Especially in the southern states, these are deeply embedded aspects of who we are... the good, the bad and the ugly. 

When it comes to health, a familiar refrain is to "pick ourselves up by the boot straps" and get healthy. That is a statement that must be unpacked in terms of home economics and cultural identity. But we normally don't think about health in this way. This is why, I think, the healthcare system is struggling.  Health is not just about one thing... it's about everything. 

Where do we start? First, we have to break down the barriers that are holding people back from better health.

  • Cheap fast food, liquor stores and lack of opportunity in urban neighborhoods,
  • Increasing burdens on the working poor who are being left behind economically,
  • Burdens on any person whose lived daily experience daily feels disconnected from educational and economic opportunities because of racism, sexism, or discrimination against the LGBT community.

If we are going to become healthier as a city, we must collaborate across sectors in an effort to root out all of these barriers. This is what IDEAS xLab is training artists to do. We are also training artists to work within the healthcare industry. This is an industry filled with caring people and resources who can and will be allies with communities in solving some of Louisville's most pressing health challenges.

Together with a broad coalition of the caring, IDEAS xLab is working to create a new breed of artists who can become effective community advocates in deconstructing the current conversation around health in order to create a new model that doesn't look at poor health as a personal failure.  As a city, we must break the cycle of personal shame related to poor health and recognize that we all have a stake in finding solutions, together.

Health equity is good for individuals.
Healthy individuals create a healthy family.
Healthy families create a healthy community.
Healthy communities create a healthy workforce.
A healthy workforce creates a thriving, diverse and resilient economy.

Want to learn more about IDEAS xLab's Healthy Days?  Click here.


If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em.

1 Comment

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em.



Two words I certainly love to hear after a morning of hard work at IDEAS xLab. On the menu was Jimmy John’s. Thinking about their sandwiches and how quickly they deliver, my mouth already begin to water. The uniformed driver came in swiftly and I was ready to dine. I was handed my sandwich and unwrapped it slowly. I was met with lettuce, ham, cheese, hot peppers.  There was something missing. I unwrapped the paper a bit more thinking, surely there must have been some mix-up. Where was the 12-inch, white, toasty bread that was supposed to be encasing my sandwich? There must be something wrong. But as I looked at Josh, a partner at IDEAS xLab, he was standing at his desk simply enjoying his sandwich or as I learned, his “unwich”- a sandwich made with all the trappings minus the bread. “Well,” I thought. “If you can’t beat em, join em!”

From that point on I made a habit to watch Josh. Every hour or so he was refilling his 24-ounce cup of water when I had barely managed to get down one cup. He packed his lunch most days and he periodically ate throughout the day, huge salads and spaghetti made with spaghetti squash. Outside of his meals, I watched him stand at his desk the entire time he worked. Surely he must be tired. So I asked him. Without a second thought he said, “Oh no I have been doing this for so long I’m just used to it.” I wondered why I had never thought just to stand up at my desk? Quite frankly, observing Josh made me think about so many things regarding my fitness and sadly where I was lacking.

It was not like I had not worked out before. I knew what to do as most people do. I knew what to eat and not to eat. Although I am not a nutritionist, most people know an apple has more health befits than eating a chocolate chip cookie.  I exercised faithfully and then life happened or better yet, excuses happened. One day out of the gym turned to one week, to one month to rolling into a new year. I was tired of that routine. Starting and stopping only to start again.  Watching Josh, I saw a daily example of how health was made easy along with six great reminders to get my fitness back on track.

1.     Be responsible.  Fitness is your responsibility. Pack your lunch daily (or as often as you can) making sure to include healthy selections ensuring that grabbing unhealthy fast food is not the easiest choice. That means you will have to be responsible for prepping your food. That may mean making a huge pot of soup, baked chicken and vegetables, etc. Carry a refillable cup for your water. It is good for your health and it is good for the environment. If you know you won’t go to the gym or workout after work if you need to go home and change first, pack your clothes in the car that morning. Look for any barriers that are keeping you from making yourself responsible and make a decision to be responsible for yourself.

2.   Find a partner or group for encouragement and accountability. Last weekend, during Smoketown Strength, IDEAS xLab Smoketown Running Group, I was so discouraged because not only was it cold, but I was also the only walker/jogger. By the time I even got into a good stride, I knew more than likely they would already be back at the YMCA waiting for me. A member of the group, Mitzi, who teaches Zumba for Twice Da Hype, quickly spoke up and said, “I am walking and jogging with you.” My heart smiled. I know her level of fitness because I took her Zumba class, that she did not need to walk or jog. She could have run the 5k easily. Instead she made a choice to walk with me. During our walk, she would say, “Hannah, let’s run to the mailbox, the fire hydrant, the white car.” She continued to name landmarks and I would run to them. When I needed to stop and walk, she supported me but when she knew I could do more she pushed me.

3.     Still have fun. A glass of wine or a cookie is fine. So is a hamburger and fries. However, eat these items in moderation or learn how to cook them differently.  I discovered that I did not have to stop eating all the things I enjoyed. I simply had to find a way to make them differently or eat them on occasion. I come from a family that loves greens—collard, turnip, mustard. Traditionally these were made cooked down in water swimming in the fat and juices from ham hocks. And I loved it! A little dash of Franks RedHot Sauce and I was in business! But I learned that I can have those same things just made differently. I still enjoy my collard greens only now when I cook them I add smoked turkey to them instead of ham hocks. If I want a cookie, I have a cookie. Not the entire roll of thin mints that have been chilling in the freezer. J

4.     Do something where you stand. Meaning do something where you can. Perhaps you can stand at your desk for ten minutes, walk in place for 15 minutes, do 10 squats while you are on a long conference call, etc. Wherever you are, find a way to get in some form of exercise. Every little bit helps!  

5.     Take the time. Do not make the time to exercise, take the time to exercise. Take ownership of your time. If you know you need 30 minutes in the morning to work out, take that time. That means you must be confident in owning your time and owning your fitness and health. It means establishing personal boundaries. It means learning to say no when something impedes on the time that you have chosen to take to improve your health.

6.     No excuses. We can think of any excuse not to exercise. It is just a very easy thing to do. Stubbed your toe, can’t find matching socks and the ever famous, ‘I’m going to start tomorrow’. That dear place tomorrow where every great and wonderful thing we ever wanted to do with our lives resides.  In joining Smoketown Strength, I was determined not to offer any excuses when it came to our workouts. Then last Saturday came. The forecast for the weather was about twenty degrees.  There was just no way! None! I couldn’t imagine walking to the mailbox in twenty-degree weather let alone doing a 5k. And then Josh said a sentence I will never forget, “Put socks on your hands if you don’t have gloves.” Socks? At that moment I knew no excuse would do. We are a team and as team members not only would they hold me accountable, I did not want to let the team down. More importantly, I didn’t want to let myself down. I went that day and finished the 5k. And I was proud.

Although this list of fitness reminders are not all inclusive for ways to get in shape, by doing these six steps I can already see an improvement in my health. I am looking forward to the next three months and what will happen in all the lives of the ten people in the group. If you would like to come out and join Smoketown Fitness, we welcome you! We meet each Saturday at 8:30 a.m. Please send me an email at so that you can find out our location. This Saturday, February 20, 2016 we will meet at the corner of Brook and Market in preparation for the first leg of the Triple Crown which will be held, Saturday, February 27, 2016. We have all levels of fitness in the group from running to walking. Our goal is one thing, to simply finish the course! Remember, if you can’t beat us, join us! We are waiting for you! 


1 Comment

Ushering in 2016


Ushering in 2016

I was happy to usher in the New Year at IDEAS xLab as the Community Health Advocate. Just three weeks into my new position, it made me think about my former position at Bates Memorial Baptist Church. I was blessed to work at Bates Memorial Baptist Church for 16 years. During that time, I was able to work with Dr. Williams as his administrative assistant and an amazing staff made up entirely of African-Americans.  I know it is a common thought that for some races, they can go an entire day maybe even a week without seeing someone of a different race. The same could be said for me.

There were many days that I could go throughout my life and never see anyone or have interactions with someone that looked differently than I.  When I started my new position I realized that my life was somewhat insulated. When I shaved all my hair off and decided to “go natural,” I never gave it a second thought. Rocking my fight the power earrings and Black Lives Matter hoodie on a Friday was common. I remember we rejoiced when President Obama took office. We let out a collective sigh as we heard the George Zimmerman verdict. We stood with our hands up in solidarity with those in Ferguson. It was just the way it was.  We were united, and the one thread that bound us, beyond our faith, was our race.

When I started my new position, it was the first time I paused and thought about these things. Quite frankly, the first week I felt like a fish out of the water. I was now aware of my race, my hair, my attire that often was a t-shirt with a slogan intended to challenge those that read it, my slang. I was aware of my blackness in all its glory. Something I never really thought about for 16 years.  I was now back in the “real world” and I wondered how I was going to fit in? I embraced the changes with optimism. I had a voice. I had something to offer. I was happy to share my views as well as hear views from others.  I realized being insulated is not good for the soul. There is something beautiful that comes from learning about other people, your community, where you live. I walked the streets of NuLu, admiring the unique shops and I wondered why I never took the time to do that before? I ate an amazing burger at Garage Bar, I people watched as people hurried about their day.  I laughed with Miguel, a painter in the office that always seems to be in a wonderful mood. I listened to classical music as we discussed health disparities. I listened to an NPR interview about a freed slave who wrote his life story in a time when writing by slaves was punishable by death. I heard stories of those that have lived in Smoketown for decades. I learned about Louisville and its implementation of plans to make the city one that thrives.  I attended meetings with people that cared about the health of their community. These people were just ordinary people trying to make a difference in their small part of the world.  All of the people I met and all of the experiences thus far have challenged me to think differently on some issues, to expand my experiences so that I can have a whole life, not an insulated life because a life of insulation is truly not living.

I wondered how much richer and fuller our lives would be if we stepped outside of our safe space? If we stepped outside of our familiar? If we made it a point to truly know those in our community and then step beyond our community to meet people that do not look like us? People that challenge us to think differently, to go just a little bit deeper. How much better would our lives be if we lived in such a way that we welcomed interactions with others? If we valued their thoughts and opinions? If we embraced their challenges wondering how we could make a difference? If we used what we learn from other to grow individually and collectively?

I have seen an entirely different side of Louisville since the start of the New Year. Our city does have its challenges, but I now see them as opportunities for me to help in my small corner of the world. There is beauty all around us in Louisville; we simply have to open our eyes and discover it.  I look forward to working with IDEAS xLab and growing as a poet, artist and advocate for the Smoketown Community. And I will still be rocking my fight the power earrings while I do it!






From Generosity to Justice


From Generosity to Justice

Louisville is a generous and compassionate city. And, for this, we are all thankful. As we move into 2016, IDEAS xLab would like to challenge Louisville to consider a shift in our thinking. It is time for us to move from "generosity" to "justice".



Smoke & Soul

Working to create a curriculum that would lead to the expansion of YouthBuild Louisville's current vocational education offerings in Smoketown to include culinary training and an additional 15+ apprenticeships per year for low income young people.



Genomics, Motorbikes and Kentucky's Civil Rights.

LOUISVILLE IS A PLACE WHERE ARTISTS ARE BEGINNING TO TOUCH EVERYTHING... from genomics research to motorbike mechanics.  And, then, there is also Kentucky's current national spotlight as an emerging battleground in the new civil rights movement. IDEAS xLab's artists are there too.



Bob Dylan's Theory of Entrepreneurship

IDEAS xLab believes in holistically expanding America's current artist education model to be reflective of the needs of the 99%.  Tech tools that support radical collaboration among artists are cheap and readily available. Why aren't we making more and better use of them?



Artists' Liberation

Click image above to visit BFAMFAPhD.

Click image above to visit BFAMFAPhD.

As IDEAS xLab approaches the October 2015 launch of our new business model, we will be sharing "News from the Field" to help provide context for the work we are doing. 

By Theo Edmonds & Josh Miller

The group BFAMFAPhD asks the question... What is a work of art in the age of $120,000 art degrees?

[IDEAS would reframe the question as what is THE WORK of art?]

Concerned about the impact of debt, rent, and precarity on the lives of creative people, the BFAMFAPhD group is doing important work making media and connecting viewers to existing organizing work. 

Some of BFAMHAPhD's recent findings:

Of arts graduates in The United States who reported Visual & Performing Arts as their degree ... Only 7% make a living as artists... 24% are educators, 17% work in sales and other office occupations, 11% work in service jobs, 10% work in various professional fields, 10% have not worked in the last five years, 8% are managers, 4% now work in medicine, 3% are working in business and finance, 3% work in various blue collar occupations, and 3% work in a variety of other fields."

How should this data be viewed?  Here's IDEAS take on it.

According to the data, artists are already everywhere in our economy. Let's find new ways to more fully use their skills.  

How do we make this happen?  


There are no easy answers. But, here are a few of our IDEAS to kickstart your thinking.

  • A different training/education model is needed. The current, prevailing model of educating artists can't get the job done. The higher education system is incentivized to keep current operations in place. The new buildings being built on campuses are primarily financed by rising student enrollment and student tuition. The easiest way for higher education administrators (or hospital administrators) to outwardly show "success" is to build new buildings. Shouldn't we be measuring success differently?  

Because we live in an increasingly digital society, this old model of growth no longer makes sense. And, it takes money away from true innovation in artist education.  The finance industry has caught onto this evolutionary trend.  Every year, brick and mortar branch banks are disappearing as online banking experiences exponential growth.  Higher education art schools are not immune. The point is not to replace one thing with another entirely.  The point is that we need to rethink EVERYTHING and create a holistic new model for educating artists. 

  • Complex relationships will need to be forged between artists and industry. This is not just a matter of deploying "design thinking" and turning artists into designers. Because, quite frankly, industrial designers are probably better equipped to facilitate that process than are most artists with MFAs.  Furthermore, if you look at the design business these days, its not doing so hot either - the market seems oversaturated.  We need sustained, open partnerships and action-research that creates radical new career paths for good artists in industry.

  • Arts philanthropy will need to be disrupted.  Current models do not, by and large, encourage and invest in innovative artists. Arts philanthropy is mostly designed to shore up arts institutions who depend upon the work of the artists without the responsibility for providing those artists a living wage, healthcare insurance or any of the other benefits that are part and parcel of our modern financial system. New business models are needed that provide financial independence for artists. This will not be easy for everybody. But, it is already underway.  

Ultimately, here is the lesson from the startup business world to the arts, education and philanthropy establishment. If you are not going to disrupt yourself, you can be sure that someone else will. Technology has provided democratizing tools that are bringing with them a new era of artist empowerment.

We are at the beginning of a radical new time in which artists are taking control of their financial and artistic lives. IDEAS joins our fellow artists in saying... Hallelujah!  



Exponential Thinking Issue 10



READER NOTE: click on image at left to read the current magazine online. Click here for full archive of previous issues.

This summer, Louisville served as an international creative hub, hosting artists from Hong Kong and landscape architects from Versailles (FR). We explored planning a formal garden, the wood carving process, body movement, gender identity, critiques on capitalism, the politics of food waste. 

These cultural exchanges built international friendships between individuals and communities. They strengthened partnerships between IDEAS, YouthBuild, Louisville Ballet, Asia Institute - Crane House, and New Roots with the Yale-China Association and le Potager du Roi in Versailles (France).

For IDEAS [International Dialogue and Engagement Art Strategies], this summer was transformative. 

We believe that artist's can be catalytic forces who make new options visible for a world in need of new thinking. 

With our partners YouthBuild and Residency Unlimited, we place artists at the vanguard of knowledge in healthcare, manufacturing, ecommerce and vocational education to activate a creative workforce.

Our network of artists and partners are dedicated to alleviating key causes of inequality -- financial, racial, gender and sexual orientation.

Though small in size, our disruptive approaches are far reaching and extend through global networks and international exchanges. We are shifting how workforce develops and how artists engage - both on a local and global level.  And, in October, we are going to be taking it up a notch or two. 

Get to know the creative  people, place and things that connected Louisville to the wold this summer.