Article and images provided by Nick Covault, Programming and Community Engagement Manager at The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts
The Commonwealth of Kentucky is a state of many regions - mountains, plains of bluegrass, caves, and lakes carve out a state that is proud of its identity and heritage. The same regional diversity, however, can easily serve as a divide between fellow Kentuckians. In a state where Whitesburg is a six hour drive from Paducah and where the largest city presses against the border with Indiana, it’s easy for Kentuckians to think of vast swaths of their shared state as “that place over there.”
A collective of Kentuckians, however, is working hard to connect people across natural and man-made divides to share resources and build relationships for the greater good of the Commonwealth. The Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange (KY RUX) perceives our state on a human scale, operating on the belief that Kentucky’s greatest resource is the people who call this state “home.”
KY RUX is a joint project of organizations which themselves represent three corners of the state - Appalshop (based in the eastern town of Whitesburg), Maiden Alley Cinema (of Paducah), and Art of The Rural (a national organization with staff based in Louisville). With the guidance of a steering committee, these groups have identified “next generation" leaders from across the state to be matched in pairs or small groups within three cohorts - arts/culture, agriculture, and small business/community development.
KY RUX participants travel en masse to each of their respective communities to spend time with their match or small group, dialoguing about common challenges and successes while planning collaborations. This allows participants to discover the landscape and culture of Kentucky regions that otherwise may have remained an unrealized road trip. This past June KY RUX members gathered in Whitesburg to climb Pine Mountain and take in the Appalachian music of the Seedtime Festival; in early August the same group met in Louisville to explore The People’s Garden in the Shawnee neighborhood and take a plant tour of Iroquois Park. This October, Paducah will play host, providing the KY RUX a chance to discover the beautiful features, food, and people of our western region.
The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts has a statewide mission and quickly saw value in the KY RUX, as it brings cultural workers together to envision an even greater Commonwealth. The Kentucky Center was one of the KY RUX’s first sponsors, and supports a staff presence at KY RUX convenings (currently, The Kentucky Center’s Programming & Community Engagement Manager is matched with staff at Appalshop and Maiden Alley Cinema).
While many collaborations born from the KY RUX have already reached a level of fruition, including a vision for re-energizing a historic hotel in Whitesburg and a plan for a graphic novel that tells stories of profound Kentucky women, we believe the best is yet to come as this two-year-old initiative continues to introduce Kentuckian to Kentuckian to create an outcome greater than the sum of their parts.
The KY RUX states its mission as, “Together, we are creative opportunities for Kentuckians to cultivate relationships across divides in order to build a more unified and equitable Commonwealth for all.” For information on the initiative, visit http://artoftherural.org/programs/rux/.