The Rural-Urban Exchange

The Rural-Urban Exchange (RUX) is a nationally-celebrated creative leadership program using place-based cultural exchange to develop the skills, networks, and capacity of rural and urban leaders to bridge divides and make change.

RUX was founded in Kentucky in 2014 as a partnership of Art of the Rural and Appalshop and, after six cohorts in the Bluegrass state, expanded to launch MN RUX in 2022. We’ve now hosted eight RUX cohorts in 22 community intensives across 13 host communities and two states. As of 2022, the RUX network includes 260 Kentuckians from 49 counties and 32 Minnesotans from 16 counties.

RUX alumni are artists, educators, farmers, attorneys, factory workers, bankers, nurses, elected officials, small business owners, retirees, and more. RUX connects them through a network of deep relationships that bridge cultures, expand social capital, and unite diverse leaders towards common vision.

How RUX Works

Each Spring, an incoming RUX cohort is selected to join the rising cohort for the annual Rural-Urban Exchange. Over a series of Community Intensive conferences, the cohort explores diverse regions, engages in nuanced conversations about what they’ve seen, and fosters productive relationships that bridge cultures, sectors, and geographies.

In each community, hosts collaborate with RUX’s statewide Steering Committee to design an itinerary that celebrates community assets, addresses complexities, challenges assumptions, and reveals commonalities. Hosting RUX is an opportunity to lift up local leadership, amplify community spirit, and start conversations that wouldn’t otherwise occur. For the cohort, seeing communities from the inside strengthens their familiarity, fondness, and accountability to Kentucky's regions.

That mutual benefit is demonstrated by this video  from our 2019 RUX Intensive in Muhlenberg County, KY.

The Currency of Connection Approach

Our Currency of Connection curriculum compliments host programming. With a focus on people, place, and partnership, RUX coursework supports the cohort to become more culturally competent, thoughtfully informed, and well connected community leaders. We also expand their worldview through a multivocal, nuanced, and diverse Kentucky story that strengthens the member’s understanding of and commitment to communities across the state.

From the beginning, we’ve understood bridge building to be relational work. Our Steering Committee, Staff, Cohort, and Partner Network includes community leaders from every region of Kentucky and Minnesota. We are diverse in background, perspective, and experience, and rely on that diversity to help us navigate complex challenges in a way that advances our interdependence. We hold our core values of Connection, Diversity, Openness, and Inclusion at the center of the work we do, so we use a distributed leadership approach to movement building. As we often say, RUX is made by RUX.

We believe the shortest distance between two people is a story, so we use our cultures and traditions to help us build authentic relationships, trust, and shared vision among our cohort members. We supplement this cultural exchange with leadership training, so that this network of leaders are poised to advance community change.

Over time, RUX has proven that building relational infrastructure across diversities, sectors, and regions advances collaboration, strengthens practice, and sparks solutions.

Our Results

RUX projects reach every Kentucky region, and alumni attest that RUX shifted their perspective and relationship to Kentucky. Alumni credit RUX for incubating projects like CivicLex, Black Soil: Our Better Nature, and the Mountain Training Network.

In 2023, RUX will be hosted in Owensboro, Louisville, and Estill County in Kentucky, as well as Mahnomen, the White Earth Nation, and Winona County in Minnesota. To learn more and apply for either program, visit or

RUX has been celebrated by the Kennedy Center, Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, NPR, The Hill, the National Governors Association, and many more. Our handbook, case studies, webinars, workshops, and narrative change projects share stories that highlight RUX collaborations and promote a narrative of interdependence.

The Living with Complexity Case Studies share the impact of the Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange through the stories of twelve Kentuckians who have engaged with the program over it’s seven year history. The interviews are organized in the context of the three components of the RUX Currency of Connection Framework: People, Place, and Partnership.

The Living with Complexity Case Studies are supported by a 2019 ArtWorks-Multidisciplinary category award from the National Endowment for the Arts. They were written by founding RUX Steering Committee Members Ivy Brashear and Richard Young. Ivy and Richard also conducted the interviews. The concept for the Case Studies was developed by the Rural-Urban Exchange Expansion team, and additional editing was provided by Taylor Killough, Mark Kidd, and Savannah Barrett.

Download the Living with Complexity Case Studies here.

The Currency of Connection Handbook shares the framework and approach of the Rural-Urban Exchange. This document also tells the story of our learnings and impact while tracking the history of the program’s development from our pilot in 2014 and through the first five years of the full program 2015-2018.

The Currency of Connection Handbook was written by the Rural-Urban Exchange Expansion Team, and reflects the contributions of Savannah Barrett, Ivy Brashear, Nick Covault, Stefani Dahl, Gerry James, Mark Kidd, Ada Smith, Sarah Schmitt, Tanya Torp, Richard Young. This work has been supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the McKnight Foundation, and our founding partners at Art of the Rural and Appalshop.

Download the Currency of Connection Handbook here.