Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange


The Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange (RUX) invites rural and urban Kentuckians working in the arts, agriculture, community development, health, and business to create an influential network that possesses both the social capital and capacity needed to transform Kentucky's future.

Each year, this partnership between Art of the Rural and Appalshop brings 75 members together over three community intensive weekends to develop professional skills and leadership potential while exploring all that Kentucky has to offer—engaging with the social culture, foodways, artistic work, natural environments, regional identity, and broader context that is defining Kentucky in the 21st Century.

We also explore the issues by getting to know those most affected: square dancing with folks in recovery at an addiction treatment facility, participating in traditional Bosnian coffee service in a mosque, touring tobacco farms in transition, or discussing development and displacement with clients of a homeless shelter.

RUX’s Currency of Connection Framework guides the design of these Intensives, and is focused on People, Place and Partnership. We nurture literacy of Kentucky’s diverse identities, histories and cultures, and work with members to tell their own story, develop intercultural competence, and teach best practices to advance their work at home.

As a creative leadership program, we emphasize cultural work as a key to leadership development because we believe that true leadership is a process of deepening connections to others, and that the point of connection becomes the pipeline through which good ideas coalesce.

Our work is deeply of this place and is helping to align an extraordinary network of Kentucky’s creative class. We are most successful when members feel a heightened sense of belonging, are inspired to contribute to the issues facing their communities, and experience determination- the belief that through their skills and connection, they can impact the destiny of their communities.

Based on member evaluations, we know RUX is capable of growing individual skills and confidence, building social capital, improving individual and collective efficacy, and bridging divides. Since our founding in 2014, the Kentucky RUX has been hosted in every region of the state, including Bowling Green, Covington, Harlan, Hindman, Horse Cave, Lexington, Louisville, Muhlenberg County, Paducah, and Whitesburg. The participants in RUX have come from a range of backgrounds and careers, many of which are arts & culture- based, with others including health, education, economic development, and factory work. While our initial goal was to reach 150 people and every region of the state in the first five years, we’re proud to have exceeded that benchmark by serving 240 Kentuckians from 42 counties as of 2019.

The Future of Rural-Urban Exchange and the Currency of Connection Framework

In 2019, the program will be hosted in urban Northern KY, Appalachian Eastern KY, and rural Western KY, and includes a leadership cohort of 75 members from 29 counties who are diverse in their experiences of age, expertise, sexuality, gender, race, geography, culture, and class. The Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange is guided by a distributed leadership approach to movement building, wherein partners, steering and host committee members, alumni and cohort members collectively contribute to the evolution of the programming.

RUX staff and Steering Committee have been working with the cohort and alumni to document and evaluate the RUX program from the beginning, which has provided a wealth of learning about this project’s impact and methodology. This learning has shaped values that guide us:

1) We believe that the people who live here have the experience and knowledge to address our challenges, steward our resources, and model our collective future

2) We see connection and belonging as vital community capacities, and value social cohesion as key to community health

3) we believe that providing opportunities for exchange and peer learning inspires people, evokes a shared sense of purpose, sparks innovation, and can begin to bridge solutions.

Looking back on our first five years, we are confident that we’ve proven our concept. As a result of the RUX program’s recognition at national conferences and in publications such as the Christian Science Monitor, National Governors Association, and the Wall Street Journal, we regularly receive requests to expand the program into other regions. We’re keenly aware of the potential of the RUX model to offer a progressive platform for engagement ahead of 2020, and intend to grow our program’s capacity to advance our network to improve the lives of all Kentuckians while also sharing our methodology to powerfully impact other regions struggling to achieve a thriving culture of rural-urban interdependence.

To help RUX transition into its next chapter of strength and growth, we are seeking partners to invest in this program that has risen from the ground up, is in demand, and contributes a relevant component solution to the specific needs of our time.