This post is seventh in a guest series from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, about the winners of its 2016 RWJF Culture of Health Prize.
“I don’t think art in and of itself can do anything,” says Theo Edmonds, artist and co-founder of IDEAS xLab, an artist innovation company in Louisville, Ky. “But I think artists can change the world.”
More specifically, the former healthcare executive says artists can impact health in surprising ways. He’s found believers across Louisville, from the mayor’s office and local foundations to the area’s healthcare institutions and the University of Louisville. Together, they’re out to do transformative things across the city:
A vacant lot in the Smoketown neighborhood will become the venue for a drum circle as part of Project H.E.A.L., a five-year effort that will employ the arts to help residents look for solutions to community health needs.
This fall, a former liquor store will become home to the printmaking and bookbinding activities of Steam Exchange, a free after-school arts program.
A photovoice exhibit, featuring the photographs and written observations of West Louisville residents, will set the stage for a community meeting to pinpoint ways to start taking action to reduce violence in their neighborhoods, which have among the highest violent crime rates in the city.
Roots & Wings, a performing arts group made up of nine young adults of African descent, is addressing community violence, black identity and other topics in neighborhood workshops and main stage performances. They hope to get people talking and thinking about what they can do to level the playing field in Louisville and give everyone a fair shot at success.
In these projects and others, art has become a vehicle for change.
“The power is in the people,” says Hannah Drake, a poet and lead artist for Project H.E.A.L. “But sometimes you have to show people they have the power to change anything they want to.”