The Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange (RUX) began in 2014 as a creative leadership program designed to build confidence, grow social capital, and bridge divides to unite Kentuckians. In the summer of 2022, the Minnesota Rural-Urban Exchange will launch through the vision and support of leaders and organizations from across Minnesota, in coordination with RUX folks from Kentucky.


RUX attracts Kentuckians who are interested in getting to know different regions of the state while developing leadership skills. Each year, the program accepts a new 75-member cohort representing the arts, agriculture, community development, education, health, and business.

Each cohort participates in six meetings over a two-year period, meeting in communities across the state’s rural and urban regions to build connections across cultural, racial, economic and geographic divides. Participants engage in conversations and activities that can challenge their identities as Kentuckians but also help them to see their similarities.We work with three communities each year to host conferences that celebrate Kentucky’s history, culture, identity, and places. We supplement this contextual learning by exploring the issues that are defining each region with those directly affected, so that members gain compassion and context.

After seventeen intensives in ten communities, we have tested the durability of our relationships and cohesion with conversations and experiences that mire many Kentuckians in disagreement, and we came out stronger for it. As a result, RUX alumni possess many unique attributes that make them a greater asset in their communities: RUX members gain a greater intercultural understanding of Kentucky’s many identities, histories and cultures. They also share their own stories and learn practical strategies to advance their work at home. Most importantly, they graduate with an invaluable network of Kentucky’s creative class that reaches far beyond the usual suspects.


Our Currency of Connection framework is developed through long-term collaboration with Kentucky artists. RUX is a weave of local cultural practices, cultural organizing strategies, and leadership frameworks, and has developed into an entirely unique approach to creative leadership development that is specific to the collaboration, context, and cultural moment of Kentucky in the 21st century.

We know that all Kentuckians have cultural and historical experiences that are representative of their place. RUX aids members in recognizing how our regional identities are connected to other places in Kentucky. By revealing and emphasizing these connections, we develop the trust and shared values necessary to advance long-term work.

We know that building a sense of place relies on immersive experiences, so we do our work in the community—considering the future of the coal transition on top of a reclaimed surface mine in Western Kentucky, teaching network strategy in the side yard of the African American Museum in Bowling Green, or mapping our regional futures on the steps of the Eastern Kentucky Social Club in Lynch. As a two-year commitment, the iterative nature of RUX deepens the member’s relationships to one another and the places they visit. This approach to leadership development helps Kentuckians remember our roots, reclaim our sense of belonging, and connect Kentucky’s people and places.


  • Connections:RUX has connected 240 Kentuckians from 42 counties in host 10 communities. When Members have described RUX, they describe a heightened sense of belonging, and feeling more confident that they possess the skills and connections to affect change in their communities.
  • Collaboration:We started RUX because we knew that stronger relationships among Kentuckians with diverse backgrounds would catalyze new projects, and that these interactions could inspire new ways of addressing our shared opportunities and challenges. Since 2014, RUX members have developed partnerships, consultancies, and projects that touch every region of the state.
  • Economy:RUX Community Intensives contributed about $30,000 into local Kentucky economies in 2019. Additionally, we have attracted $145,000 in national and federal grants.
  • Culturally Competent Leadership:As a diverse Southern organization led by women, RUX is designed to skill members in working across difference. The future of our Commonwealth relies on leaders who value the diverse people, cultures, and regions of Kentucky and can build support across these diversities.

From the mountains to the cities, the Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange is uplifting local cultures to help people make meaningful connections and tell stories that are as exciting, diverse, and complex as Kentucky. Our alumni testify that RUX helped them develop meaningful relationships across the state, learn about other Kentucky communities, lend their own expertise, and create an invaluable network. They also say it’s fun and rewarding – personally and professionally.

After only six years, RUX has been celebrated by the Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, NPR’s 1A, the Atlantic’s CityLab, Huffington Post, Stateline, and NonProfit Quarterly. We’ve been featured at the Kennedy Center’s Arts Summit and the National Rural Assembly, and in studies by the National Governors Association and Americans for the Arts. As RUX gains national recognition, Kentucky has the opportunity to lead the conversation on rural-urban interdependence by sharing this unique model.

Kentucky RUX has been hosted in every region of the state, and has served 240 Kentuckians from 42 counties.

RUX is supported by Art of the Rural and Appalshop, along with regional host partners, and hundreds of individuals and businesses. The program is supported in 2020 by the National Endowment for the Arts, the McKnight Foundation, Alternate ROOTS, the W L Lyons Brown Foundation, and the Kentucky Arts Council. 2020 host partners include the Estill Development Alliance, Kentucky Performing Arts, and Muhlenberg Alliance for Progress. Past host communities include Bowling Green (2017-2018), Harlan (2016-2017), Horse Cave (2017-2018), Knott County (2018-2019), Lexington (2016-2017), Louisville (2014-15), Muhlenberg County (2019-2020), Northern Kentucky (2018-2019), Paducah (2015-16), and Whitesburg (2014-15).

To discover more about the Kentucky RUX, visit

The Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange was founded in 2014 by Savannah Barrett and Josh May as a partnership between Appalshop and Art of the Rural. The program is lead by a statewide steering committee, member-led committees, and host partners in collaboration with staff members Savannah Barrett and Ashley C. Smith.

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.