Using Theatre to Bridge a Divide

By: Elise Kieffer  

Quincy Music Theatre operates in Quincy, the county seat of Gadsden County, Florida, U.S.A. Historically, the local economy was agriculture, primarily shade-grown tobacco. As in many other southern communities, the reliance on agriculture in Quincy brought with it strains in race relations, as wealthy white land owners were seen to oppress poorer laborers of color, primarily African Americans. Amid those already tense race relations, local Quincy investors were responsible for growing the local Coca-Cola company into an international conglomerate. This history led to great socio-economic divides exacerbating the racial divides plaguing the community. In the midst of this environment, stands Quincy Music Theatre (QMT). They are based in the historic Leaf Theatre that once operated as a segregated movie theater. Since the late 1980s, the building has been owned and operated by QMT. QMT faces opposition as an art organization in a low socio-economic community as well as due to its status as an organization founded by wealthy white community members operating in a building that exemplifies the racial tensions in the community. I began this study with the intention of learning about the methods undertaken by a rural arts administrator trying to keep an organization going. The issues that arose regarding race relations and inter-generational politics became very central to this study. I learned the staff at QMT deliberately and delicately confronts and challenges the local climate of racial tension, bringing the community together and facilitating difficult conversations.

Racial Tension, Musical Theatre, Rural Arts
The Arts in Social, Political, and Community Life
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Elise Kieffer

Doctoral Student, Teaching Assistant, Art Education, Florida State University, United States
United States

Elise Lael Kieffer is a doctoral candidate in Arts Administration at Florida State University. She holds a Masters in Public Administration and a graduate certificate in nonprofit management from Tennessee State University, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in musical theatre from Jacksonville University (Florida). After a successful career in fundraising for an international organization based out of New York, NY, Elise relocated with her family to a rural community in Kentucky, at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. There she found her purpose, exposed to children completely lacking access to the arts. She founded and served as the executive director of Burkesville Academy of Fine Arts (BAFA) in an effort to fill that artistic void. BAFA is now a thriving arts organization offering year-round educational programming and performance opportunities for young people in that Appalachian community. Elise is finishing her first year at FSU, hoping to continue her research toward increasing arts opportunities in underserved communities through improved technical support for administrators of small arts organizations.