What if artists were trained as social entrepreneurs in creating a culture of health?

Project HEAL (Health Equity Art Learning) is IDEAS xLab’s signature national project, using arts and culture engagement to help communities discover creative new ways to identify their health priorities and to develop a health equity action plan for maximum impact. It uses a “place-based” organizing framework to increase community capacity to influence five social determinants of health: economic stability, education, social and community context, health and health care, and neighborhood and the built environment.

Project HEAL is designed to:

  1. Increase opportunities for making a health a shared community value.
  2. Increase social cohesion by creating new community partnerships that foster a sense of place-based collaboration.
  3. Develop projects that use art and cultural strategies to help a community envision new options for healthy neighborhoods based on equitable policies.
  4. Pioneer new relationships between communities and health systems that lead to more culturally competent health services and better consumer experiences.
  5. Demonstrate arts and cultural production as a viable strategy to reduce population health costs, resulting in the creation of a new funding model between the arts and health sectors that moves beyond philanthropic sponsorship into an operational partnership based on outcomes.

Project HEAL’s community-based participatory action research model will be deployed in Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Prize Communities across five distinctive regions of the U.S. 

Project HEAL responds to three national trends:

Health disparities that inhibit economic growth. Cities are interconnected.  Lack of health equity gives rise to increased healthcare costs and decreased productivity. Failure to address one vulnerable populations’ needs (i.e., LGBTQ, African American, Latino/a) means less resources are available to invest in innovation to grow sectors like advanced manufacturing, technology and others that drive America’s innovation economy.

Shifting population demographic. Americans are more racially and ethnically diverse than ever. By 2055, the U.S. will not have a single racial or ethnic majority. Developing flexible, culturally aware systems is imperative.

Lack of jobs in the arts sector & decreased arts funding. According to recent studies, only 7% of degreed visual and performing artists earn their living as artists. Creating new, sustainable job opportunities for artists in the health sector will stimulate creative economies across the U.S.

We believe investor-Partners in this work will see a four-fold return:

  1. Increased social cohesion, reduced isolation and improved well-being
  2. Improved community health through long-term chronic disease reduction resulting in decreased healthcare costs
  3. Improved, sustainable funding streams for community arts/culture production
  4. Ultimately, increased economic resilience of the business sector

We are looking for like-minded community partners to join Project HEAL: health systems, businesses, government entities, social and human service agencies, artists and arts organizations, and funding partners.

Together we can create a culture of health. 

Project HEAL was created using the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Culture of Health Action Framework, click here for more information.

Project HEAL was created using the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Culture of Health Action Framework, click here for more information.


About Project HEAL Pilot Site

Project HEAL Pilot Lead: Hannah Drake - National Artist & IDEAS xLab Community Health Equity Strategist  

Pilot Site Location - Louisville, KY

Project HEAL is currently taking place in the Louisville, KY community of Smoketown - the oldest African-American neighborhood in the city and directly adjacent to the highest concentration of health, hospital and physician services in the state of Kentucky.  Despite Smoketown's proximity to clinical services, average life expectancy (69yo) of Smoketown residents is 9 years less than Louisville's average on the whole. During the past 3 years the neighborhood has experienced rapid change when Sheppard Square, the 4 square block public housing complex, was demolished. Over 200 families were relocated to other neighborhoods while new low-income housing is being completed using a federal Hope VI grant. 

Pilot Social Network Artists for Project HEAL include: 

  • Greg Acker - conducting five pop up drumming stations within various areas of Smoketown to gather stories, facilitate deeper communication within the community, and will use drumming as a tool to introduce personal healing into community health.  

  • Cynthia Brown – using dance and movement as a therapeutic art form in the Smoketown community. 

  • Shelton McElroy developing and implementing a community assessment tool that is aimed at gathering information about community needs, identifying target populations and areas within the community that may be at increased risks and assessing the larger community environment and how it can play a role in addressing the needs of individuals in the community.  

  • Caitlin Kannepell & Rachael Mauser (Steam Exchange) - using art expression with the youth in the Smoketown Community to foster youth led community leadership. 

Pilot Agents of Health Artists for Project HEAL include: 

  • Bobbi Buchanan  - explores neighborhood narratives identifying grief caused by trauma and strategies for coping. 
  • Andrew Cozzens - investigates the measurement and impact of time on incarcerated members of the Smoketown community and their families.
  • Emily Stewart - probes the role of stress in caregivers within the community.  

Click here for full artist bios and project descriptions.

The artist residency program is made possible through the support of the Creative Agents of Change Foundation (CAC).  CAC believes that artists can become a unique force of social entrepreneurs and innovators who creatively use arts+culture tools to promote wellness, to increase positive self-image and to increase understanding of how the health sector can impact health outcomes in communities. 

Other,  Louisville-based partners of Project HEAL include:

In addition to Creative Agents of Change Foundation, supporters of Project H.E.A.L. include Health Impact Project (Pew Charitable Trust, RWJF) and Fund for the Arts.