Nonprofit Organizations and Arts Education in a Rural Community

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

Elise Lael Kieffer, Ph.D.
Program Director and Assistant Professor
Nonprofit Leadership Studies,
Organizational Communication and Leadership

Murray State University

Nonprofit Organizations and Arts Education in a Rural Community
Dr. Elise Lael Kieffer, Murray State University

Local Government Administration in Small Town America | Routledge, October 2023
Edited By James C. Clinger, Donna M. Handley, Wendy L. Eaton

In “Nonprofit Organizations and Arts Education in a Rural Community,” a book chapter published in Local Government Administration in Small Town America, Dr. Elise Lael Kieffer examines the vital role that nonprofit organizations play within areas throughout the US that are characterized by sparse populations. Through a detailed examination of an interdisciplinary arts education nonprofit in a rural Appalachian community, she highlights the unique challenges these organizations face, including navigating a complex local political landscape, dealing with the perceptions of being outsiders, and overcoming the hurdles of sustained funding shortages. Her analysis also includes a comparison to the experiences of their urban counterparts, reflecting the added complexity of operating within small-town dynamics where interpersonal relationships and long-standing family histories significantly influence local politics and resource allocation.

Kieffer’s chapter offers insightful perspectives on the intersection of nonprofit management and community development in rural settings, underscoring the indispensable role nonprofits play in fostering arts education and broader community engagement in areas where government entities may fall short. Moreover, her findings emphasize the importance of understanding local context and building community relationships as fundamental strategies for nonprofit success in rural America. This work not only contributes to the academic discourse on rural nonprofit management but also serves as a practical guide for those looking to make a meaningful impact through nonprofit work in similar communities.

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. Her textbook “Rural Arts Management,” will be released by Routledge in July.