Rural Goings-on in Kentucky

by Sydney Boyd, Humanities in American Life project manager

The idea of rural America is always shifting, but it’s seen a dramatic change during the pandemic. In Kentucky, two Smithsonian Museum on Main Street traveling exhibits, “Voices and Votes: Democracy in America” and “Crossroads: Change in Rural America,” are currently touring, centering rural communities’ past, present, and future.

“It provides rural Kentuckians the ability to really be exposed and to, maybe for the first time in their lives, learn about artifacts and historical pieces from the Smithsonian in Washington,” Bill Goodman, executive director of Kentucky Humanities, told me. “I think anyone is privileged to get an opportunity to get to travel to Washington and get exposed to the Smithsonian, but as we know, that doesn’t happen in many parts of rural America, and this gives folks in small places…the chance to really see a quality museum exhibition.”

One of these exhibits is just getting started: Kentuckians can find “Voices and Votes” on display at the Center for Rural Development in Somerset, Pulaski County until July 24. It’s the third stop of six in 2021.

“‘Voices and Votes’…really gives people in the Commonwealth an idea of the history of democracy in our country and many of the many different facets of people who have make up the struggle who have given us the right to vote and debate and learn how our government is made from the ground up,” Goodman said.

Heading to its seventh and final stop in Loretto, population 693, “Crossroads” is as important to rural Kentucky as it is to people in the urban cities, Goodman said, because it examines not only what’s changing, but also why and how those changes are happening in our country today and who’s involved.

“A lot of people in the country are really concerned that we are abandoning the rural areas of our state, and the questions presented in the Museum on Main Street exhibit are, ‘What we’re going to do about that? Where are people in rural America going to live? How are they going to make a living? Where are crops going to be raised?’” Goodman said. “At the same time, you find lots of people in urban areas looking to rural America—starting up farms, raising crops, or other entrepreneurial efforts are going on—so both of these Museum on Main Street exhibits are unique in their many different perspectives.”

Most MOMs exhibits tour rural areas, but “Voices and Votes” just left the Portland Museum in Louisville in an exhibition focused on small neighborhood culture within a big city.

“[The Portland Museum] used a photo exhibition to demonstrate the history of that area for the people,” Goodman said. “The exhibit is breathtaking in its capacity on a national scale, but the Portland Museum is extraordinary in what it asked their neighbors to put together.”

Photo Credit: Kentucky Humanities