Leveraging the power of arts, culture, and the creative industries to frame, seed, and scale innovation in health and wellbeing.

Project HEAL Prototype Impact


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Project HEAL deploys an artist-activated, social-lab process grounded in community culture – the cognitive processes that enable or block transformations of human behaviors. Project HEAL is a platform for intensive, multi-year experiments that combines multiple creative events (i.e., artist residencies) and cultural processes (i.e., online storytelling with digital biomarker analysis). Recognizing problems as symptoms, IDEAS xLab’s artists and cultural producers bridge together people from across various community systems to seek root causes and then collaborate on creating arts-based interventions (combined with science) designed to test initiatives aimed at addressing those causes. Project HEAL has intellectual/practical roots in fields such as participatory practice, community organizing, developmental evaluation, and design thinking but leverages the power of arts, culture and creative industries to bring together intentionally diverse teams of stakeholders and gives them a creative platform to experiment and to iterate solutions.

Ultimately Project HEAL will provide communities/governments/private sector/philanthropy with:

1.      Culturally-responsive, multi-dimensional, development frameworks for investing in social determinants of health;

2.     Data/technology support tools to forecast challenges, decrease costs, and connect clinical with social; and

3.      Scalable model for training interdisciplinary, health innovation professionals. 

Below are just a few examples of health impact in Project HEAL's urban prototype site (Louisville, KY / 2014-2017):

Arts and culture are increasing civic engagement in neighborhood development policy.

  • Poets and photographers created a policy initiative using poetry as a catalyst for a policy initiative to limit predatory advertising in low-income communities.

  • Collaborative programming between artists and YouthBuild Louisville resulted in marked increase of annual community volunteerism (from 350 individuals to over 1500+).

  • Artists joined community members in advocating for improvements to municipal government notification policies related to new liquor store licenses, resulting in Metro Government changing its notification policy (for all Louisville neighborhoods) and denial of license applications for two new stores attempting to locate in Smoketown.

Economic opportunity is beginning to improve for both the community through collaborative cultural programming.

  • More than 30 artists and cultural producers from 5 different countries produced projects in and with the Smoketown leading to a significant infrastructure and community wealth building project called the Smoketown Hope Corporation – a Health in All Policies reimagining of culturally-responsive economic development strategy and outcomes-based community center service delivery for impacting Social Determinants of Health. 

Healthcare access is being understood/operationalized in culturally-responsive ways.

  • In a partnership with a digital marketing firm, graffiti art and poetry became the means for increasing online health literacy and access to primary prevention programs. The positive, culturally responsive messaging produced click-through rates 83% above industry benchmarks.

  • Combining arts strategies with the science of the Medical Mistrust Index (an instrument to measure how mistrust of health care organizations leads to health care service underutilization), a medical student is engaged as a social justice scholar on the Project HEAL artist team to understand how physicians might improve patient care by bridging the trust gap with communities of color.