It Takes a Village

Photo by Tyrone Turner. Courtesy of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Photo by Tyrone Turner. Courtesy of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

People often think of health as a personal matter, but it’s not quite as simple as that. While individual decisions—like, say, choosing to eat fresh fruit instead of a box of Twinkies, or training for a 10K instead of a Netflix marathon—certainly matter, equally as important is the culture surrounding those individuals. Does the community support and encourage an active lifestyle?

The folks at IDEAS xLab, the Greater Louisville Project, the Community Foundation of Louisville and KentuckyOne Health believe that Louisville already does, and they have joined forces to build upon the connections between community and health.

A little over a year ago, these four partners came together to apply for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health Prize. Their hard work paid off. The city of Louisville was one of seven cities recognized for its efforts to ensure all residents have the opportunity to live longer, healthier and more productive lives. In addition to joining a network of prize-winning communities, Louisville will receive $25,000.

IDEAS xLab Co-Founder Josh Miller has always thought of Louisville as a prime contestant for this award. “A lot of the things that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation highlighted as particularly interesting to them were also the drivers to why we were interested in pursuing this application,” Miller says. “The Center for Health Equity, which we’ve had in Louisville for 10 years, is the first center for health equity as part of a metro government in the U.S. So, that’s a really unique aspect.”

Miller went on to describe what makes Louisville particularly worthy of the prize: “One of the things we were personally excited about was all of the ways artists and culture are being engaged as a strategy to improve health. Tying in with the innovation of using artists to engage health is also that overlap with youth violence prevention.”

Miller gave the example of the Roots & Wings organization and the work they are doing for the city. Roots & Wings is a theatre project that uses art and performance as catalysts for restoration of self and community in West Louisville neighborhoods.

To continue the conversation, the Culture of Health partners will host a free public event, “Louisville’s Culture of Health: Putting Good Health Within Everyone’s Reach, at the Muhammad Ali Center on November 7.

The two-part event will begin with a learning-and-sharing section hosted by Renee Shaw of KET. Delegates who will be going to the Culture of Health event in Princeton in late October will share what they learned. There will also be feedback from Joe Marx, senior advisor and senior communications officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, who will reflect on his visit to Louisville. Attendees will have the opportunity to participate in an interactive exercise to help start a conversation.

Afterward, Mayor Greg Fischer will kick off the celebratory portion of the evening. This will include artistic performances and continued dialogue around how we come together across sectors to further build a thriving culture of health in Louisville.

“It’s hard to be a prophet in your own land sometimes,” says Miller. “Learning from Joe Marx about his experience with being in the site visit in Louisville—what that means to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and how Louisville contrasts with the other members of the alumni network—I think all of that is really valuable information.”

What that initial site visit proved to the participants was that there’s a lot of good groundwork being laid and a lot of positive things happening in terms of cross sector partnerships and collective impacts in Louisville. On the other hand, one area they realized could use improvement was the diversity of corporate leadership.

“It’s not just about the four organizations that helped to push us through the application process or the 75-100 organizations we were able to incorporate into the site visit, but it’s about all the work that’s happening,” said Miller. “We’re really trying to figure out the best ways to increase ownership of this being an exciting time and looking at how we can come together even more to leverage this opportunity in the future.”

People interested in the “Louisville’s Culture of Health” event, which runs from 2 – 7 p.m. on November 7, are encouraged to register in advance. The hosting organizations hope that we, as a city, can both celebrate what makes Louisville’s culture of health so impressive and continue to discuss what positive directions our community can continue to move in. VT

To register for the November 7 event, visit For more information on the Culture of Health prize, visit

Story by Nicholas Siegel.