Reflections on #kyrux2017: Lexington

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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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