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

Smoketown HOPEBOX

 Site of Smoketown HOPEBOX now under development in Louisville, KY.

Site of Smoketown HOPEBOX now under development in Louisville, KY.

HOW MIGHT we re-imagine the "community center" as a digitally connected cultural space, with sustainable designs and business models, where working poor, underserved and struggling middle class communities can fight poverty and improve health? 

That's what we are working toward with the Smoketown HOPEBOX! 




In 2011 a new 100+ million dollar HOPE VI Housing HUD re-development temporarily displaced over 400 families in Kentucky’s oldest African American neighborhood, Smoketown, in Louisville. In the process, the community center that had served the people for over 100 years, Presbyterian Community Center  (a/k/a Grace Hope Community Center), closed due to financial reasons. 

In preparation for the return of residents, Louisville Metro Housing Authority and various community organizations including YouthBuild, Bates Memorial Baptist Church, Bates Community Development Corporation, IDEAS xLab, Metro United Way, Coke Memorial Church and local business owners like Manhattan On Broadway and Kertis Creative,  began trying to fill in the gaps by using alternative spaces as make shift "community center" solutions for the neighborhood. Despite the best efforts of many, the lack of a focal place for communication caused the efforts to be disjointed and, as a result, social cohesion suffered.  

With a large, traditional community center model out of reach during a time of financial austerity, community anchor organizations and residents began pooling their resources and ideas to find a solution.  

From this need, the concept of HOPEBOX emerged from IDEAS xLab’s Project HEAL. 

The human-centered design for HOPEBOX is being co-created by a number of community anchor organizations, residents, local government and private sector. Using an asset-based approach focusing on culture as the foundation from which residents can envision and build just, creative and healthy futures, HOPEBOX mixes lean startup methodologies, agile development, social justice and population health research to re-center the design and development of community spaces around sustainability.


  • Working laundromat supporting both community need and providing a sustainable revenue stream for HOPEBOX operations. 

  • Community Health Connector (CHC).  The CHC is a 1-stop shop for residents to easily be connected with the healthcare and social services they may need. The CHC will be a consistent, trusted voice in the community who cultivates relationships through community organizing and outreach activities. 

  • A business incubator wealth building program to increase income and equity as a result of participating in a worker-owned cooperative. The proposed model is to form a non-profit corporation composed of representatives of the lead organizations to provide oversight and shared services (e.g., financing, accounting, legal, marketing) to multiple for-profit worker-owned cooperatives. The working name of the non-profit is the Louisville Market-Driven Cooperative Corporation (LMCC). The type of businesses offered by the for-profit cooperatives has not been determined yet. Ideas mentioned include:  

    • Child Care Center/In-home services 

    • Transportation/Van Pool/Shuttle Services 

    • Restaurant and Hospitality Temporary Services 

    • Lawn Care and Landscape Services 

    • Home Health Agency 

  • A small number of low-income apartments for homeless young adults who are attending the workforce development program at YouthBuild, a community anchor in Smoketown. 

  • An ecologically sustainable building with a digitally connected community space for neighborhood groups to gather in safely.

  • An arts and cultural program which celebrates Black heritage, history year round and will feature a digital media learning lab, podcast studio and web-based oral history project that will allow the community to continually tell it's own story as the neighborhood evolves over time.


Relationship between laundries, civil rights and worker unions.

Mississippi’s First Labor Union (1866)

In June 1866, a group of newly freed black women working as laundresses in Jackson, Miss., formed the state’s first labor union, the Washerwomen of Jackson. Together, the women sent a resolution to then-Mayor D.N. Barrows that demanded a “uniform rate for our labor.” The bold action inspired other freedmen to write their own resolutions petitioning for fair wages, all in a climate where white planters and politicians were trying to re-enslave them through notorious “Black Codes” legislation.

The Atlanta Washerwomen Strike (1881)

Less than 20 years after the Civil War ended, thousands of black laundresses in Atlanta went on strike in the summer of 1881 to lobby state officials for higher wages and better working conditions, including greater control on how their work was organized. The strike began with 20 black laundresses who formed the Washing Society, a trade union seeking “higher pay, respect and autonomy over their work, and established a uniform rate at $1 per dozen pounds of wash,” the AFL-CIO notes. The Washing Society not only succeeded in raising wages but also inspired other domestic workers throughout the city to employ similar methods to advocate for their rights.