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.
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.