Elise Lael Kieffer, Murray State University
Elise Lael Kieffer, PhD

Elise Lael Kieffer, PhD
Program Director and Assistant Professor
Nonprofit Leadership Studies, Organizational Communication and Leadership
Murray State University

The Benefits of Photo-Elicitation in Arts Administration Research
American Journal of Arts Management | Volume 11, Winter 2023

This article by Dr. Elise Lael Kieffer explores the benefits of incorporating the photo-elicitation method into interviews within arts and cultural administration, leadership, and management research. Photographs are often used to open communications when traditional verbal communication is less reliable, or hindered by cross-cultural interactions. Within the arts and culture, researchers often use different terminology than administrative practitioners, and administrators often use different terminology than art makers and creative practitioners. Photo-elicitation serves to bridge those gaps in communication and open participants up to opportunities for deeper reflection. This article gives examples from one narrative inquiry study that utilized both exclusively verbal questions and also photo-elicitation in order to provide guidance for the usefulness of photographs as an interview tool.

While this study focused on rural arts organizations, photo-elicitation, as a qualitative research method, is valuable in any work that reaches across borders, boundaries, cultures, and identities. Evoking responses through images breaks through colonial constructs by empowering participants to speak and represent themselves. This is work that is important across the nonprofit sector, as we research, educate, and work with diverse populations.

Dr. Kieffer’s first love was musical theatre. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Jacksonville University (Florida). After graduation, she began a successful career as a performing artist on the East Coast and Midwest. She left performance to return to school for her Master’s in Public Administration and Nonprofit Management from Tennessee State University. After earning that degree she moved to New York and worked for an international humanitarian aid organization, specializing in fundraising. While her primary assignment was growing the base of individual donors, she is also remembered for the dramatic growth in funding coming from foundations and corporations under her leadership.

The next chapter in her nonprofit sector journey combined her passion for the arts with her growing commitment to strengthening community engagement and building sustainable organizations. She moved to rural Cumberland County, Kentucky, at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains to found the Burkesville Academy of Fine Arts (BAFA). This interdisciplinary arts education organization offering year-round arts education and performance opportunities for children was launched in rural South- Central Kentucky. BAFA found strong support through local youth serving organizations such as 4-H and the public schools, becoming an integrated part of youth development across the region.

With a long-time aspiration to play a role in the development of leadership and management capacity for those serving the community, in 2017 her family relocated to Tallahassee, Florida, for Dr. Kieffer to pursue her PhD at Florida State University. While studying arts administration, with a focus on nonprofit leadership and management, she focused her research on strengthening rural nonprofit arts organizations. During her academic journey, she has pursued scholarship and engaged in teaching across the leadership and management curriculum. Among her many professional awards, it is worth noting that she was recognized with the Emerging Scholar Award at the International Society on the Arts in Society in 2019, 2020, and 2021. In addition, she received the Emerging Scholars Award at the International Conference on Diversity in Organizations, Communities, and Nations in 2021.

Upon receiving her Ph.D., Dr. Kieffer joined Murray State University as Program Director and Assistant Professor of Nonprofit Leadership Studies and Director of the Murray State Nonprofit Resource Center. She is currently co-writing a textbook, “Rural Arts Management” for Routledge.