Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange

Exchange Network members release heart-shaped lanterns from Lala Land Studios during the Louisville RUX
Photo Credit: Aron Conaway

At Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange, we believe that people are more likely to do hard work together when they have meaningful experiences in one another’s communities and are invested in their relationship to one another. Grounded in these values, the Exchange was launched two years ago by partner organizations Art of the Rural & Appalshop to build a statewide network of community innovators integrating the arts, agriculture, and small business in partnership strategies that address our shared social and economic future. In the first two years,  in partnership with the Kentucky Arts Council and Maiden Alley Cinema, the Exchange connected leaders from the coalfields of Appalachia to the cities of Louisville, Lexington, and Covington, to the river towns of southwestern Kentucky. Since then, the Exchange has assembled 130 members from 24 counties to cultivate relationships across divides in order to build a more unified and equitable Commonwealth for all.

Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange documentary video created by Tyler McDaniel

Each year, the RUX hosts three weekend exchanges: In 2016, we’ll meet in Paducah July 29-31, in Harlan County August 19-21, and in Lexington September 9-11. These weekend exchanges bring together 80 participants from every corner of the state to create a focused network and integrate partnership in key sectors that will address our shared social and economic future.

To learn about the 2016 Cohorts, view this listing of 2016 RUX Match Teams by Cohort. To learn more about the 2016 RUX Network, view their bios: 2016 Kentucky RUX Network.


The first cycle of this project began with exchange between Whitesburg and Louisville, the second expanded to include Paducah, and the long term vision will expand the Exchange’s reach to include all five regions of Kentuckyover the next five years. As the Exchange grows, we’re developing both discipline-specific working groups and a larger constellation network of Exchange participants across the Commonwealth. This network is complemented by a statewide steering committee to support this network’s growth and capacity building.

RUX at Americana in Louisville. Art making Mapping RuralUrban Connections. Photo by Aron Conaway

Rural-Urban Exchange members map their experiences in the state of Kentucky at the Americana Community Center in Louisville, 2015.
Photo Credit: Aron Conaway

Regional Hosts for the 2016 Rural-Urban Exchange include: From Harlan, the Harlan Center, Higher Ground and the Southeast Community and Technical College, Pine Mountain Settlement School; From Lexington: Shane Barton (University of Kentucky Appalachian Center), Ivy Brashear (MACED), Tanya Torp (KFTC, the Justice House, Step by Step Lexington), Richard Young (North Limestone Development Corporation); From Paducah: Maiden Alley Cinema.

Juanita performs with Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Casper at the Seedtime on the Cumberland Festival’s annual YouthBored Punk Show as a 2015 Rural-Urban Exchange Band-In-Residence
Photo Credit: Kimberly Owsley

Rural-Urban Exchange Mission Statement: Together, we are creating opportunities for Kentuckians to cultivate relationships across divides in order to build a more unified and equitable Commonwealth for all.

Rural-Urban Exchange Vision: We believe that by acknowledging our complex inheritance of historical divides and abundant assets, Kentuckians can work together to transform the present into an inclusive and equitable future.

Imagine a Kentucky where:

  • Kentuckians have a shared sense of place, and can see beyond boundaries between people and places that are imposed by traditional power structures.
  • Kentuckians are more empowered ambassadors of their communities and of Kentucky, and work together creating solutions to the challenges we face.
  • Kentuckians are welcome as neighbors in other communities across the Commonwealth, and are inclusive across geography, ideology, identity, race, class, sector, and other barriers.
  • Kentuckians value themselves, seek common ground, and embrace interdependence.

Thank you to our 2016 Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange sponsors!

The Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange network is a part of the Kentucky Regional Network within the national Next Generation: The Future of Arts & Culture Placemaking in Rural America” initiative. Through the combined expertise of the Rural Policy Research Institute and Art of the Rural, Next Generation engages artists, organizations and communities across public, private and philanthropic sectors to advance collaboration, innovative strategies, and “Next Generation” leadership in rural creative placemaking. In 2015, Next Generation was selected as one of five national “knowledge building” projects supported by an Our Town award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

We invite you to join us in working towards investment in Kentucky’s common ground.

By Aron Conaway. RUX in Paducah at Maiden Alley Cinema

Rural-Urban Exchange members gather outside of Maiden Alley Cinema in Paducah.
Photo Credit: Aron Conaway

You can also learn more about the Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange on the National Endowment for the Arts’ Community Matters webinar, through this Daily Yonder article, in the Kentucky Arts Council’s Creative Industries Report, and in the April issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

About Appalshop: Appalshop is a non-profit multi-disciplinary arts and education center in the heart of Appalachia producing original films, video, theater, music and spoken-word recordings, radio, photography, multimedia, and books. Their education and training programs support communities’ efforts to solve their own problems in a just and equitable way. Each year, Appalshop productions and services reach several million people nationally and internationally.

About Art of the Rural: Art of the Rural is a collaborative organization with a mission to help build the field of the rural arts and shape new narratives on rural culture and community. We work online and on the ground through interdisciplinary and cross-sector partnerships to advance engaged collaboration and policy that transcends imposed boundaries and articulates the shared reality of rural and urban America.