Reflections on #kyrux2017: Bowling Green

By Nicole Musgrave

This year I’ve had the joy of representing the Kentucky Folklife Program as the regional host coordinator for the 2017 Bowling Green Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange community intensive.  In this role I planned a variety of experiences with people and places around South Central Kentucky that represented the region’s history, culture, economy, and landscape.  It was fun to have the opportunity to host RUX members in Bowling Green and to share the things I find exciting about living in South Central Kentucky.

The experiences that I chose for the weekend reflected the stories about the region that I felt were important to highlight.

One thing I knew I wanted to showcase was Bowling Green’s immigrant and refugee communities.  Bowling Green is a refugee resettlement city, a designation which has helped enrich the city’s cultural and ethnic diversity.  As the graduate assistant at the Kentucky Folklife Program (KFP), I had strong connections to Bowling Green’s Bosnian community.  For the past two years, KFP has been working on the Bowling Green Bosnia Oral History Project,learning about the traditions that are important to members of this community, like Bosnian coffee.  We planned a Bosnian coffee demonstration, hosted by Sanida Palavra and Dzenana Kadric at the Bosnian Islamic Center of Bowling Green to learn about the significance of coffee in Bosnian culture.  Through their demonstration, we learned how coffee expresses the importance of hospitality and slowing down to enjoy the simple pleasures of life (or čejfas one would say in Bosnian).

In talking with RUX co-founder Savannah Barrett about the vision for the Bowling Green community intensive, she noted how she always conceived of Bowling Green as a rural city — a place with many of the amenities of urban life, and a strong connection to rural culture and economies.  With this is mind, I wanted to show the way in which Bowing Green interacts with the rural areas that surround the city.  On Saturday evening we went to Need More Acres Farm in Scottsville, KY where we were hosted by Michelle Howell.  Howell shared about her work connecting people in Bowling Green with fresh, Kentucky-grown produce.  After taking a tour of her farm and getting a sense of how Howell’s work is a back-and-forth between rural and urban, we sat down to a farm fresh meal and some live music by Franklin, KY’s Dead Broke Barons.

I also planned for the group to spend Sunday in Horse Cave, KY about 40 miles northeast of Bowling Green.  I loved the thought of bringing RUX members to Horse Cave because the city is really emblematic of the landscape of the region.  South Central Kentucky is known as “Cave Country,” with a karst landscape defined by limestone, sinkholes, underground rivers, and caves.  Horse Cave is unique because there is a cave right in the middle of their downtown.  In fact, the city was built around the cave Hidden River Cave.  We toured the area above and below ground, hearing cultural, historical, and ecological stories about the community.

While serving as the Bowling Green regional host coordinator was an opportunity for me to connect RUX members with South Central Kentucky’s diversity, it also ended up being an opportunity for me to connect more deeply with my community.  It’s easy to take the place where you live for granted, to put off going to the places you’ve yet to visit, to put off talking to the people you’ve yet to strike up a conversation with.  This opportunity was the push I needed to take those leaps, and as a result I feel a much greater sense of rootedness in this place.

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Reflections on #kyrux2017: Lexington

By Nicole Musgrave

On June 23rd, roughly 70 people from all across Kentucky gathered in Lexington for the first community intensive of the 2017 Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange (RUX).  As a first-year RUX member and a relative newcomer to Kentucky, I was eager to spend the weekend getting to know a new city and a new group of people.  I was also self-conscious about living in Kentucky for less than a year and not yet developing an identity as a Kentuckian.  I wasn’t sure how I would fit into the conversation.

Over the course of the weekend, I developed a better understanding of Kentucky as I listened to my fellow RUX members tell stories about their connections to this place that we share.  Hearing how other people identify with their home gave me an opportunity to reflect on how I view my own relationship to Kentucky.

I also gained a greater familiarity with Lexington.  I had the chance to hang out in a variety of bars, breweries, and arcades, experiencing Lexington nightlife while getting to know RUX members.  I ate at a number of restaurants – such as Sav’s Grill and Third Street Stuff – that I probably wouldn’t have made my way to had I just ventured to Lexington on my own.  I got to hang out at the Justice House, a community space near downtown that’s the home of RUX members Christian and Tanya Torp.

I also learned about different aspects of Lexington’s history and landscape, such as the Davis Bottom neighborhood, a racially diverse but economically depressed area near downtown that recently became a community land trust and has been rebuilt as Davis Park.  I learned how Lexington’s horse country heritage is embodied in the urban areas of the city – by street names such as Race Street and Oliver Lewis Way – and in the rural areas outside the city – by the surrounding farms with rock fences and grazing horses.  I also had the chance to hike around McConnell Springs where I realized that the karst landscape that’s familiar to me as a resident of South Central Kentucky also extends up to Lexington. (I also learned the word ‘karst’ for that matter).

Since this first weekend in Lexington, my identity as a Kentuckian has strengthened.  I feel more connected and anchored to this place, and can now say that I have friends all over the Commonwealth.  I have a better understanding of how the different regions of Kentucky are perceived and how they’re experienced (and how at times there’s a discrepancy between the two).  I know a bit more about the state’s challenges and points of pride.  And I also had fun!  I heard my fellow RUX member Tim Morton describe RUX as a “fieldtrip for adults,” and it’s kind of like that.  Without having to do any of my own planning or research, I was able to have an exciting and diverse introduction to Lexington.

Through the connections I made over the weekend, I was able to visit Lexington again a few weeks later to interview people who were associated with some of the spaces that we spent time in during the RUX weekend.  I visited with Pat Gerhard, owner of Third Street Stuff; Kenneth Demus, a resident of the Davis Park neighborhood who made the transition from Davis Bottom; Ashley C. Smith, formerly with the Lyric Theatre; and I was able to drop in on a Heinz Breakfast hosted by the Torps at the Justice House.  To learn more, click on the photo essays below.

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Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange featured in Wall Street Journal

“What we have found is that it’s really difficult to hate someone you’ve had deep, meaningful, transformative experiences with—and whose community you’ve really come to value because you’ve felt welcome and appreciated there.” –Savannah Barrett, Director of Programs at Art of the Rural and Co-founder of the Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange

The Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange is featured in The Wall Street Journal. We’re excited to share our work with the world and to contribute positive stories about Kentucky and rural America. We’re grateful that The Art Of The Rural, Appalshop, and the RUPRI Rural Policy Research Institute, and the #KYRUX2017 Steering Committee, host partners, and network support this work every day.

Kentucky RUX was also featured in US News and World Report, a Louisville Public Media interview, the Kentucky New Era, and the Bowling Green Amplifier.

Read the Wall Street Journal Article: America, Meet America: Getting Past our Toxic Partisanship

Listen to the WFPL/Louisville Public Media Interview: Louisville, Not Kentucky: Dissecting the State’s Urban-Rural Divide

Read the US News and World Report article, syndicated from Kentucky New Era: Kentucky Man Taking Part in Rural-Urban Exchange

Read the Bowling Green Amplifier article: WKU’s Kentucky Folklife Program to host the 2017 Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange cohort in Bowling Green