The Rural-Urban Exchange Highlights Kentucky’s Creativity

Imagine a networking project that feels like a matchmaking service. Organizers get to know you and your community, and then find someone somewhere else in the state for you to get to know and collaborate with– based on your interests and work. You meet your match in their hometown alongside dozens of other exceptional young leaders, spend a weekend getting to know their culture and environment, and then map out a plan to collaborate on a project. You start working together, then you host them and they come to know your place and your passions. Together, you design a project that responds to the needs of your communities and helps shape a new vision for the state of Kentucky. That’s the premise of an Art of the Rural collaboration in Kentucky that’s rapidly gaining national acclaim.

This summer, Kentuckians from across the state are coming together to celebrate the rich cultural diversity and innovation that is driving our Commonwealth’s regions. The Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange is regional development strategy that began as a partnership between Art of the Rural and Appalshop, and engages more than fifty next generation community leaders from Louisville, Paducah, and Southeastern Kentucky together to articulate a shared vision for Kentucky and collaborate on projects to build a unified platform for new models of community-driven development throughout the state. The Exchange met in Whitesburg in June in conjunction with the Seedtime on the Cumberland Festival, will convene in Louisville August 7-9 during the Flea Off Market, and will meet in Paducah during Maiden Alley’s Oktoberfest, October 16-18, 2015.

The Louisville weekend begins on August 7th with a story circle at the People’s Garden, then hosts Juanita (the Rural-Urban Exchange band in residence) and guest Bonnie Prince Billy, Jaye Jayle, and Alex Coltharp (Paducah) at Nelligan Hall. Saturday’s events include a hike and plant tour of Iroquois Park, followed by facilitated project planning at Americana Community Center, then on to Wenzel Street for a block party celebrating this statewide network and the 8th of August Emancipation Day in partnership with Flea Off Market. This block party celebration of interdependece will feature the River City Drum Corps, Roots and Wings performers, Mixdown Monday Louisville DJs, , and a range of speakers highlighting rich cultural diversity of the state. We’ll close out the night with a art warehouse gathering and finish up the weekend with a collaborative brunch at Wiltshire on Market featuring Chefs Reed Johnson and Jenny Williams.

Hike June Tyler McDaniels

Participants in the Rural-Urban Exchange hike to Bad Branch Falls, June, 2015. Photo Credit Tyler McDaniel.

The network connects multiple generations of business leaders, creative professionals, artists, farmers, and entrepreneurs to align with three sectors essential to a regional creative placemaking strategy: Arts and Culture, Agriculture and Food Systems, and Small Business. While many sectors are contributing to each region’s growth, these networks are advancing projects that not only provide significant economic impact, but cultivate place-based development that improves the quality of life in communities across Kentucky.

The first cycle of this project began with exchange between Louisville and Whitesburg, while the long term vision will expand the Exchange’s reach to include all five regions of Kentucky over the next five years. These initial “matches” will grow into the formation of discipline-specific working groups alongside a larger constellation network of Exchange participants across the Commonwealth. Now in it’s second year, the Exchange has partnered with the Kentucky Arts Council and Maiden Alley Cinema in Paducah, and a steering committee representing cross-sector leadership from all regions of Kentucky. This work is sponsored by the Kentucky Arts Council, the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, Kentucky for Kentucky, the Louisville Flea Off Market, Wiltshire Pantry, and Heine Brothers Coffee.


Rural-Urban Exchange network members release lanterns during a gathering at Lala Land Studios in Louisville, KY in September, 2014. Photo credit Aron Conaway.

More than a dozen collaborative cross-sector projects have developed as a result of the Exchange, including: a collaboration with the University of Louisville School of Business to produce a feasibility study to reopen the century-old Daniel Boone Hotel, a partnership to produce programming related to the repatriation of historic field recordings back to their original communities across the Appalachian region; film documentary and radio program development; collaborative art projects; ongoing conversations between farmers and local health care providers to advance food systems and health and wellness partnerships across these regions; and the continued exchange of knowledge, resources, and cultural traditions.

Through engagement with community leaders from across the state, the exchange is building shared creative and financial capital within and across communities. This network presents a model of self-investment in Kentucky’s economic viability and cultural heritage, rooted in personal investment of time and resources alongside those of stakeholders, partners, and sponsors. The Exchange network has invested $50,000 to date and together, we are working towards investment in Kentucky’s common ground.

Regions Map Nick Covault

Rural-Urban Exchange member’s “relationship to Kentucky” map. June, 2015.

Defined by the National Endowment for the Arts: “creative placemaking projects strategically link communities and local governments with artists, designers, and arts organizations to improve quality of life, create a sense of place, and revitalize local economies.” Within three years, the National Endowment for the Arts and  ArtPlace have invested more than $87 million in creative placemaking projects. More than two million dollars have come into Kentucky through these programs, including major national and federal investments to Appalshop, Art of the Rural, Berea College, and Roots and Wings in 2015. Other Kentucky projects have been funded by the NEA and/or ArtPlace in Covington, Cumberland, Hazard, Hindman, Jenkins, Lexington, Louisville, & Vanceburg.

We see the Exchange as a new approach to creative placemaking that builds a statewide constellation network and integrates key sectorsin partnership strategies that address our shared social and economic future. This holistic approach to placemaking prioritizes network building, collective capacity, andresource sharing within local communities and across regions of Kentucky.


Rural-Urban Exchange network members visit ReSurfaced. Louisville, 2014. Photo credit Aron Conaway.

The Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange is a 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 and private sectors to advance collaboration, innovative strategies, and “Next Generation” leadership in rural creative placemaking. Next Generation will enhance the potential for common mission collaboration across Regional Networks, asserting the essential role of arts and cultural organizations in economic and community development. Recently, the Next Generation initiative received one of five National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Our Town: Projects that Build Knowledge About Creative Placemaking awards.   

The Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange has been featured in conference presentations at the Rural Arts and Culture Summit in Morris, MN and the Crosscurrents: Art + Agriculture Conference in Greensboro, NC. You can learn more on the National Endowment for the Arts’ Community Matters webinar, in the Kentucky Arts Council’s Creative Industries Report, and in the April issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine. To view images and video from the Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange, visit:


Rural-Urban Exchange steering committee members meet in Lexington. July, 2015.

The Exchange network believes that all Kentuckians have a stake in this work and that when rural communities advance, we all prosper. Please consider joining our effort and supporting the Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange.

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.

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