Theo Edmonds pic.jpeg

Things that matter to me:

People. Hope. Trust. Belonging. Creativity. Culture. Health. Wellbeing. Innovation. Policy. Entrepreneurship. Science. Justice.


What I do.

Culture is integral to the definition, creation and measurement of health and wellbeing across diverse communities.  I bring together the creative industries with private sector and government leaders to develop culturally-responsive approaches to innovation and wellbeing.

Three Roles of a Cultural Futurist

  • Analyst: Identify cultural opportunities for evolving population health and social impact agendas through cultural and corporate innovation seminars, projects, workshops and nontraditional professional development courses that offer insights for businesses to improve their health “footprint” amongst consumers, employees, and their communities.

  • Entrepreneur: Support “creatives” or representatives of creative industries in developing value propositions, minimum viable product designs and hypothesis tests, rooted in real-world challenges, where cultural solutions, backed by science, can achieve big impact.

  • Catalyst: Innovate and implement projects between creative industries, businesses, and population health researchers and pioneers, including traditional healthcare delivery system agents such as hospitals and physicians. A central focus is on creating evidence-based, “edutainment” media, journalism and creative arts programming which engages social and cultural motivators for wellness.

By deploying CULTURAL WELLBEING framework to solution-finding, I help to identify and activate underutilized cultural assets as the foundation from which to envision, build, measure and spread the most impactful creative solutions for shifting attitudes and behaviors toward a culture of health. Learn more about Cultural Wellbeing.

Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 9.34.40 AM.png

Artist Statement: How to Heal the World

Co-Founder of the nonprofit IDEAS xLab (Louisville, KY). Cultural futurist, artist, poet and social entrepreneur. Former healthcare executive and champion clogger. CLICK HERE and your can hear my full artist statement on the Five Things podcast by Tara Anderson. WFPL Radio, Louisville, KY.  

Brief Biography

Theo Edmonds | JD, MHA, MFA  (he/him/his)


633 East Main Street, Apt 340, Louisville, KY 40202

Assistant Professor, Health Management & Systems Sciences University of Louisville

School of Public Health & Information Sciences

Director | Center for Creative Placehealing®

Co-Founder & Advisor |

Cultural Innovator |

Twitter: @theoedmonds

LinkedIn: theoedmonds

(859) 420-7620 | Personal email:

A. Short Bio

Born and raised in the Appalachian mountain town of Jackson, Kentucky -- same community that is the focus of NY Times Best-seller, Hillbilly Elegy -- Theo is an artist, innovator and culture evangelist who was named one of "50 People Changing the Face of the South" by Southern Living Magazine. He is a faculty member of the University of Louisville School of Public Health & Information Science where he leads the Center for Creative Placehealing – a 21st Century entrepreneurship program at the intersection of public health and the creative industries. His research is focused on using cultural analytics to measure and predict innovation capacity while introducing an entrepreneurial model that moves systems beyond diversity toward full inclusion. Theo guides the next-gen entrepreneurship program for the Derby Diversity & Business Summit, serves as the founding Vice-Chair of Civitas, Louisville’s new LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce, and co-chairs the Louisville Health Advisory Board's Cultural/Social Impact Committee. He is the co-founder of IDEAS xLab, an arts-based nonprofit focused on civic innovation, activism and health, and was co-leader for Louisville's successful 2016 bid to be named a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Prize winner. 

B.  Personal Statement

I want to live in an America where everyone has a fair chance to become their best self. This means that public and private sector interests must become better aligned. It also means that we need new models for moving from diversity to inclusion (African American, Latinx, LGBTQ, Women, People with Disabilities, etc) as core components of innovation in the private sector.

The future of business is tied to creating value: both in the market and in society. In other words - doing well, while doing good. This is fundamentally a cultural challenge. As developer of the Creative Placehealing® model, I use the dual lens of culture and health to solve problems through one of the most scalable, problem-solving machines there is: entrepreneurship.

In partnership with health researchers, I make and measure impact through a lens of health (employee, consumer, community). In partnership with the creative industries, I create meaning by monitoring the bigger picture of human resilience and wellbeing found within America’s ever-shifting cultural landscape.

Business success increasingly depends on new business models and social impact strategies that have finesse, nuance and are culturally-responsive. I believe in something truly bold and new — the ability to revolutionize corporate innovation culturally. Instead of disruption, I seek to create meaning. And, through a lens of health, I aim to evolve the narrative of inclusive innovation and entrepreneurship in the 21st Century.  

C.  Education/Positions/Honors/Volunteerism


University of Kentucky School of Art & Visual Studies/Master of Fine Arts, Studio (MFA)/2013

Tulane University School of Public Health & Tropical Medicine/Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA)/1994-1996, Faculty Award for Exceptional Leadership

Tulane University/Law (JD)/1991-1994

Transylvania University/Bachelor of Arts (BA)/Theatrical Directing and Art Studio/1991


Director, Center for Creative Placehealing, University of Louisville School of Public Health & Information Sciences / July 2018 – Present

Principal Investigator, University of Louisville’s Center for Health Organization Transformation (a program of the National Science Foundation) / January 2019 - Present

Assistant Professor, Health Management & Systems Sciences, University of Louisville School of Public Health & Information Sciences / July 2018 – Present

Co-Founder, IDEAS xLab
Louisville, Kentucky / September 2013 – Present

Creative Development Director, Residency Unlimited
Brooklyn, New York / 2012 – 2013

Adjunct Faculty, Studio Art, University of Kentucky School of Art & Visual Studies / January 2011 -2012

Independent Research Artist
NYC/France/Appalachia / 2007-2011

Founder, IDEArchitect, Arts & Healthcare Consulting
Southeast Region U.S. / 2004-2007

Director of Queen’s Heart & Vascular Center, Queen’s Medical Center
Honolulu, HI / 2003-2004

Regional Director for Cardiovascular Services, Tenet Healthcare
Gulf States Region / 2001-2003

Administrator, Ochsner Heart & Vascular Center
New Orleans, LA / 1997-2001

Director of Network Development, Ochsner Health Plan
New Orleans, LA / 1996-1997

Recent Honors

  • Top 10 National Finalist for Americans for the Arts’ Robert E. Gard Award, 201

  • Americans for the Arts, Top 10 Business-Arts Partnerships in the U.S., 2017 (with Humana, Inc.)

  • Bingham Fellow, Leadership Louisville, 2016

  • Robert Wood Johnson Culture of Health Prize, 2016

  • Americans for the Arts, Top 10 Business-Arts Partnerships in the U.S., 2015 (with General Electric’s FirstBuild)


CIVITAS – LGBT Chamber of Commerce| Founding Vice-President | 2018-Present
Oversee program development, research and lead entrepreneur initiatives.

Derby Diversity & Business Summit | Steering Committee Member | 2018-Present
Launched in May 2018, the Derby Diversity & Business Summit brings elite Women, LGBTBE, Minority and Veteran Owned Enterprises together to network, develop, and enjoy Derby festivities with Corporate partners seeking to further strengthen their ties with certified firms with strong capacity and scalability. Oversee development of DDBS’s next-gen entrepreneurship program for GenZ.

Louisville Health Advisory Board | Co-Chair Culture/Social Impact Committee | 2016-Present
LHAB is comprised of more than 150 individuals, representing nearly 70 local organizations – who share an understanding of the impact of social determinants of health on clinical outcomes - have been engaging in legacy work to positively influence health and wellbeing of Louisvillians.  In leading the Culture/Social Impact committee, my primary role is to establish R&D relationships that support different health initiatives in becoming sustainable, social impact models

Bridge-Kids International | Advisory Board Member | 2014-Present
Bridge Kids International uses the power of African heritage culture to create communities that support the well-being of young people.  We help young people develop their own solutions to community challenges and build positive relationships between African, African-American, Caribbean and other African Diaspora groups for the purposes of friendship, cooperation, and individual and community empowerment.

Creating Healthy Communities: Arts + Public Health in America | Initiative Participant | 2018-Present
A national initiative designed to accelerate innovation to build healthy communities in alignment with national public health goals. The initiative will expand the intersections of arts, community development and public health through strategic cross-sector collaboration, discovery, translation, and dissemination.

CenterLink | Consultant | 2017-2018
CenterLink is the national organizing body of LGBT community centers. For a year, I served as lead design consultant for CenterLink’s work with the CDC to explore creation of an LGBT Center of Excellence model for producing positive social, economic, health outcomes.

D. Sample Contributions to Research & Development

 Recent Research

  • Center for Health Organization Transformation – A National Science Foundation-funded Center

    • Ongoing Projects (2019)

      • Culturally-responsive Approaches to Obesity Prevention

      • Cultural Wellbeing: Predictors of Wellbeing and Culturally-Responsive Innovation within Corporate Communities

      • Impact of Arts on Emotional Wellbeing of Black and LGBTQ Adolescents

  • Understanding Medical Mistrust in Communities of Color

    • Role: Co-Investigator: IDEAS xLab intentionally crafts an approach that puts artists working together with healthcare professionals. Beginning Spring 2017, IDEAS xLab embarked on a new partnership to activate new thinking around health equity and social justice by pairing artists together with medical students at the University of Louisville in The Health and Social Justice Scholars Program.  The project is focused on addressing the gaps in access to care in the Smoketown community related to medical mistrust by administering the Medical Mistrust Index (MMI) to Smoketown residents and local healthcare providers. 

  • Project HEAL – Health Impact Assessment

    • Role: Primary Author: Released in fall 2017, the Health Impact Assessment (HIA) on Project HEAL (Health. Equity. Art. Learning.) was the first-of-its-kind conducted on an arts and culture focused population health program in the U.S. The Health Impact Assessment was authored by the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness, IDEAS xLab, and the Commonwealth Institute of Kentucky, with additional support from the Health Impact Project - a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts, with funding from the Kresge Foundation. Assessment explored how IDEAS xLab’s replicable arts and culture model provides a framework for rigorously and scientifically assessing in what ways (and why) Project HEAL’s community-wide approach may: 

      • Decrease social isolation and improve social cohesion and civic engagement.

      • Create policy changes that positively impact health equity. 

      • Increase opportunities for building inclusive economies through social/cultural entrepreneurship.

      • Increase opportunities for improving social emotional skills in youth.

      • Improve wellbeing of communities experiencing chronic stress.

Community-Engaged Research & Development 

From 2014-2018, I served as primary author for 1.3m+ in national grants to develop expansive models that leverage the power of arts, culture and the creative industries to frame, seed and scale population health innovation, health equity programs, interventions and research innovation initiatives and to develop cultural-based, health in all policies model for social, economic and environmental sustainability.

  • National Endowment for the Arts, Our Town 2018 | Grant Initiative: Project HEAL
    A partnership with City of Jackson, KY, Breathitt County School System, Breathitt County Department of Public Health, Juniper Health (Federally Qualified Health Center) and an urban-rural Kentucky network of cultural producers, including the University of Kentucky, to use arts/cultural production as a means of better understanding how to address the social determinants of health related to cancer and opioids.

  • ArtPlace America, 2015 | Grant Initiative: Roots & Wings
    A unique, grass roots theatre project linking Appalachian, West African and urban arts in Louisville that engages young adult artists in their 20s as advocates for equitable development and reduction of violence.

  • National Endowment for the Arts, Our Town 2015 | Grant Initiative: Project HEAL
    A partnership with City of Natchez, MS, 100 Black Women, Mississippi State Department of Health and a group of African American cultural entrepreneurs to incorporate a health in all policies approach to tourism policy in Natchez.

  • National Endowment for the Arts, Our Town 2014 | Grant Initiative: XLerateArt
    A partnership with Residency Unlimited to educate and train artists to be corporate innovation consultants and creating opportunities for artists inside corporations as innovation consultants.

  • ArtPlace America, 2014 | Grant Initiative: Smoketown Creative Innovation Zone
    A partnership with YouthBuild Louisville to educate and train artists to be civic innovation consultants and creating opportunities for artists inside a branch of a global NGO focused on creating job opportunities for at risk youth to help the NGO expand its capacity to serve more young people in Smoketown, Kentucky’s oldest African American community.

E.  Thought Leadership and Expertise

Recent Keynotes & Presentations

  • High Tech-Human Health Summit, Aarhus, Denmark, 2018, “How Culture Shapes Population Health”

  • American Public Health Association Annual Conference, 2018, San Diego, CA “Community-Created Projects to Address Health Equity: Experiences in Three Southern States”

  • Creating Healthy Communities, Arts+Public Health, 2018, Austin, TX, “Re-imagining Corporate Social Responsibility Through Culture”

  • Americans for the Arts National Conference, 2018, Denver, CO, “Culture, Creativity and Health Equity”

  • National Network of Public Health Innovation, Open Forum, 2018, Louisville, KY, “Project HEAL”

Ongoing Development Projects

Industry-Engaged R&D Focused on Adapting Public Health Research to Expand Impact of Corporate Social Responsibility/Private Sector-led Social Innovation

  • Engagement Point: Private Sector CSR,D&I,ERGs

  • Cultural Innovation Focus: Inclusive Economy/Workplace, Social Impact, Measurement, Systems Change, Supply Chain, and Triple Bottom Line Health Impact (Employee, Consumer, Community), Code-switching, Wearable Biosensors, Health Equity

  • Frame: LGBTQ, POC, Women

Inclusive Innovation Leadership Education, Training & Professional Development

  • Engagement Point: Transdisciplinary Fellowship Model Comprised of Teams of: (1) Creatives/Cultural Producers (2) Health Professionals (3) Private Sector Leaders

  • Representative of Communities: LGBTQ, POC, Women 

  • Innovation Focus: Employee Health, Consumer Health, Community Health, Health Equity

  • Frame: Culture Shift Acceleration and Change Management

Advocacy, Messaging & Policy Innovation

  • Engagement Point: Advertising & Creative Industries

  • Innovation Focus: Narrative Economics, Translating Public Health Research for Storytelling at Scale, Using Big Data/Marketing to Produce Measurable Change

  • Frame: Evolving society’s cultural-frame related to “dialogues on opportunity creation” from one of “minority discourse” to one of “talent and inclusion for the benefit of all”

Specialized Fields of Expertise

Creative Placemaking & Public Health

Corporate Social Responsibility Innovation

Culturally-responsive Innovation in Health & Health Care

o   Social Impact Modeling

o   Cultural Simulations Design

o   Cultural Frameworks for MVP Creation 

o   Culturally-responsive Value Proposition Design

o   Hypothesis Creation + Testing

o   Cultural Change Readiness Assessment 

o   Cultural Communication Strategies

o   Cultural-based Training Workshops for Population Health Innovation

o   Developing Multi-Dimensional Measurement Approaches

o .Culture-change Leadership Development

o   Effective storytelling to exponentially improve community engagement.

o   Building a shared understanding of transdisciplinary cultural-based challenges.

o   Culture mapping ecosystems of engagement.

o   Setting “winnable cultural milestones” and hone a compelling message.

o   Designing cultural approaches that will work at massive scale.

F. Impact

Since 2013, IDEAS xLab (an arts-based, non-profit I co-founded), has trained over 60 artists and creatives from 5 countries -- a large majority of whom were African Americans, people of color, LGBTQ, rural, or women -- on culturally-responsive innovation projects (cultural solutions) designed to improve health, wellbeing and quality of life across 4 states (KY,NC,MS,LA). The prototype was called the HEAL Model (Health. Equity.Arts.Learning.). An evaluation of HEAL was conducted by the University of Louisville in 2017-2018 which found that HEAL positively impacted hope and created new social/cultural capital in historically marginalized communities. Recommendations were also made about how to further deepen the impact of HEAL for sustainability. In July 2018, I joined the faculty at the University of Louisville School of Public Health to expand the collaborative work of previous years, and to connect this ground-breaking work with the private sector. Center for Creative Placehealing (CCP) is the innovation space which emerged.

IMPACT & RESULTS (2013-Present)

Combining creative writing techniques with scientific methods, medical mistrust was measured between a low-income African American community and health providers at an adjacent health sciences campus. The research insights are now being used to envision a new program, now in the pilot phase, for increasing primary prevention access related to cardiovascular disease and for developing a new training program for medical, nursing and dentistry students at the University of Louisville;

Collaborative arts and culture programming between creatives and a youth agency resulted in marked, 2-year increase of annual volunteerism (from 350 individuals to over 1500+) in Louisville’s oldest African American community, Smoketown.

Public sculpture and poetry were used to advocate for improvements in municipal government notification policies related to new liquor store licenses, resulting in Metro Louisville Government changing its notification policy (for all Louisville neighborhoods) and denial of license applications for multiple new stores;

Visual artists working with environmental scientists and public-school teachers, developed an in-class, artist residency program to explore how middle schools can become environmental health policy innovation hubs. Policy change presented by students to the school board and now in planning for implementation;

Creatives and public health professionals developed a storytelling program to explore how hope and heritage can be used as a framework for designing substance use disorder prevention strategies in five schools in Breathitt County, KY (the location setting of the New York Times best-selling book, Hillbilly Elegy). Over 1,000 youth and their families have participated in the program.

Creatives, working together with data analysts, led the charge for Louisville’s successful 2016 effort in claiming the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Prize – the highest honor given by the largest funder of health in the U.S.;

In a partnership with a digital marketing firm, graffiti and poetry became the means for increasing online health literacy and access to primary prevention programs. With a sample size of nearly 2500 IP addresses, the innovation prototype produced click-through rates 83% above industry benchmarks;

Metro Louisville Office of Civic Innovation and a large health system partnered with creatives to investigate how “photovoice” -- a participatory action research strategy and ethnographic technique that combines photography, critical dialogue, and experiential knowledge – could be converted into a technology platform with predictive analytics capabilities in order to better understand stress regulation for cancer patients and to more effectively deploy clinical support services. Resulted in project which is now pursuing an NIH grant.

Creatives, working together with the Mississippi State Health Department, produced an project  now being developed, in which a Civil Rights Registry is being created in Natchez (MS) as a tourism and health initiative.

The Kentucky Health Department is currently using the cultural solutions method to re-imagine obesity prevention as part of a multi-year CDC program.

In Smoketown, the cultural solutions method has led to the creation of Hopebox. The project, designed around the science of hope, has attracted over 20 institutional partners (funders, non-profit housing developers, churches, University of Louisville, Jefferson County Schools, etc), who are now collaborating to convert a former liquor store into a working laundromat, CDF Freedom School, Compassion Clinic (with UofL), business incubator focused on creation of worker cooperatives (e.g., CNA, non-clinical home care) and the renovation of 20 abandoned properties as affordable housing. The goal is to bring this one neighborhood (about 1500 people) up to at least the Louisville average across multiple indicators within 10 years.