In October 2016, the City of Natchez, in partnership with the Natchez Art Association and IDEAS xLab, an artist innovation company based in Louisville, Kentucky, were awarded a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Our Town grant to further their collaboration that supports projects where artists and community members participate in arts and culture events to share stories, honor history, celebrate hope and work toward improved health and well-being – together.
The partnership began in 2014, when IDEAS xLab was engaged by Humana, Inc. as part of their Fit for Life launch – you may have seen the murals created with Natchez residents including Helen Brooks, Robert Pernell, and Bobby and Daphne Turner around town.
With the award of the NEA Our Town grant, phase two will manifest through Project HEAL (Health. Equity. Art. Learning.), which mentors, supports and trains artists through an artist residency program to create projects directed toward improved community health.
Natchez-based partners in Project HEAL Natchez include:
- Natchez Art Association
- National Coalition for 100 Black Women SW Mississippi Chapter
- Historic Natchez Foundation
- Natchez Association for the Preservation of African American Culture
- Community Health and Prevention program for the MS State Department of Health
Launching April 7, 2017, the DreamGirls Conference continues to celebrate Natchez’s 300th birthday by engaging women of all ages to contribute to the ongoing drive for Natchez residents to "tell their story".
"The girls may not see participating in Project HEAL Natchez as a part of their career path,” said Brenda Moore, President of the Natchez Chapter of the National Coalition for 100 Black Women. “But this will be a beautiful learning experience that will help shape their character and become part of their own destiny."
The National Coalition of 100 Black Women will host DreamGirls Imagine, Believe and Achieve, a two-day conference to inspire healthy choices and empower young women. One of the sessions will be a potluck dinner designed by Louisville-based spoken word artist and IDEAS xLab team member Hannah Drake entitled, "Stories from the Hem of My Mother's Apron," using guided conversations as women, young and old, share stories, insights and wisdom they learned growing up as they cooked with their mothers, aunts, and grandmothers.
“Since my term as mayor began I have been impressed by the dedication and professionalism of IDEAS xLab’s staff, and was pleased that the city served as applicant for the NEA Our Town grant application” stated Darryl V. Grennell, Mayor of Natchez.
"The positive outcome of this needed collaboration will benefit Natchez-Adams County citizens, well into our future," says Leon Hollins III, vice-president of the Natchez Art Association. Hollins will serve as the Cultural Liaison for Project HEAL Natchez.
“We will be working with Natchez-based artists to implement two Photovoice projects,” Hollins explained. Natchez author G. Mark LaFrancis, who also produced The Parchman Ordeal, and will lead a Photovoice project with high school students for the Natchez Art Association. Photographer Mack James will lead a second Photovoice project with the National Coalition for 100 Black Women.
Photovoice is a visual project which utilizes photography as a way to attach imagery to one's own experiences. These images most accurately reflect issues and health themes that appear in their lives. The creation and discussion about the photographs and their accompanying narrative is a way to inspire personal and community transformation and engage in dialogue around potential policy change.
Both Photovoice projects will conclude with an exhibition open to the public in Fall 2017.
Additional Project HEAL Natchez support has been provided by Mimi Miller of the Historic Natchez Foundation and Madeline England, Community Health Director of the Community Health & Prevention Program, Southwest MS, Mississippi State Department of Health - Mississippi State Department of Health.
*The original name of the 2016 NEA Our Town grant was the "Cultural Blueprint for Health." The name of the project has since been changed to "Project HEAL Natchez."