Raleigh, NC: The Board of Directors of the United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County has announced the retirement of their President and CEO, Eleanor Oakley, effective January 31, 2020.

Oakley made her announcement at the June Board of Directors meeting to board and staff members. “It has been a pleasure and privilege to be a part of the United Arts Council for 18 years, working with Wake County, the North Carolina Arts Council, and countless board members and private supporters to provide as much assistance for arts programming for the people of Wake as possible,” Oakley said. “While I will miss the day-to-day energies of working directly with the arts community, I hope to stay involved in many other ways.

United Arts began in 1962 with the formation of the Raleigh Cultural Center. That organization later became known as the Wake County Arts Council. In 1989, the organization merged with the Capital Area Arts Foundation, and the United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County was born. Today, the organization provides funding for artists, cultural art programs, municipalities and Wake County students. Its flagship program, Artists in the Schools, serves 150 schools each year with more than 100 professional teaching artists in music, theater, dance, writing, and visual arts.

Oakley has served as President and CEO of United Arts Council for the past 18 years. During her tenure, United Arts:

  • Expanded its Artists in Schools program from 108 schools in 2002 to 154 schools in 2019, reaching 130,000 children.
  • Launched master classes for high school arts departments four years ago, reaching 17 Wake high schools in 2019.
  • Created the Wheels on the Bus fund in 2016, providing transportation to 15,000 children in the program’s first three years.
  • Established the Wake County Artist in Residence program in 2018, an annual appointment with a different artist and artistic discipline each year. The Artist in Residence works with Wake County arts organizations and artists for 10 months in multiple ways best suited for the artistic discipline.
  • Partnered with the City of Raleigh Arts Commission, Durham Arts Council and Orange County Arts Commission to create and launch the Piedmont Laureate program 11 years ago, designating a Laureate annually in a different literary form and making the Laureate available to organizations, libraries, and other groups to highlight the importance of the literary arts in our area.
  • Added an art exhibit program for the Wake County Justice Center so that rotating exhibits of art are displayed throughout the year.
  • Instituted First Friday exhibits at United Arts, consistently held for the last 10 years.
  • Launched the Wake Municipals Murals program that financially assists Wake municipalities in having murals created for high visibility places in their communities. Three murals have been fully executed and dedicated; two more are in contract stages.
  • Established an annual fundraiser for the organization, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, that has raised more than $1.3 million over 14 years to support our Artists in Schools program.

Board Chair Mark Steward commented on Oakley’s departure: “During Eleanor’s tenure with United Arts Council, she has been a change agent, while at the same time being the guiding force that has kept to a singular focus to bring the arts to the citizens of Wake County, specifically its children. The arts landscape and population has changed and grown, and Eleanor has been a leader in the success of arts expansion in Wake County. Bravo, Eleanor, on a job well done!”

Oakley will continue in her role until her retirement date in January 2020, ensuring a smooth and orderly transition for employees, grantees and students. She will be honored for her years of service at the October 12th Guess Who’s Giving a Glamorous Gala?, a 30th Anniversary Celebration to raise money for their Artists in Schools programSponsorships available at mamodio@unitedarts.org Silent auction bidding and ticket sales begin August 26th at http://bidpal.net/guesswhogala

Former Board Chair Adrienne Kelly-Lumpkin is leading the search committee tasked with selecting a new leader. The Board has engaged the Raleigh-based firm Armstrong McGuire & Associates to assist with managing the transition and conducting the search for the organization’s next president.

The United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County, based in Raleigh, NC, was incorporated in 1989. Our mission is to build better communities through the support and advocacy of the arts. For the 2018/19 school year United Arts is helping bring in teaching artists to 150 schools in Wake County through its Artists in Schools program. The United Arts Council also offers grants to organizations, communities and individual artists and provides services to the community such as advocacy, resource development, professional/leadership development and special projects.