Advocate for the Arts

Eleanor Oakley, ’74, ’88, MBA

Eleanor Oakley, ’74, ’88, MBA, spends her days supporting artistic endeavors in Wake County, N.C., as the president and CEO of the United Arts Council. The job takes creativity – and the ability to juggle many priorities.

United Arts Council works with businesses, individuals, foundations, and the government to raise funds and to distribute grants to schools, arts organizations, and local artists. On any given day, Oakley may find herself writing grant applications, preparing for board meetings, monitoring program progress, and planning for future events.

“Leading an arts council is a busy, multi-faceted role,” Oakley said. She spends much of her time meeting with potential sponsors, artists, and other partners. One of their major programs is Artists in Schools, which has 140 participating schools. Artists in Schools helps more than 120,000 Wake County students to see an artistic performance or benefit from a week-long visit by an artist each year.

Her interest in the arts began at a young age. “My parents took me to New York City often as I grew up, and Broadway theatre fascinated me,” Oakley said. She later worked on theatre productions at Meredith.

While working in the corporate world, Oakley volunteered for 17 years with Raleigh Little Theatre (RLT). She later turned from volunteering to a professional position, managing RLT for almost 11 years. “I was happy to do work I was deeply interested in and that had such a wonderful product,” Oakley said.

While at RLT, Oakley was encouraged by a United Arts board member to apply for the organization’s CEO position. In every role she’s played, Oakley credits preparation she gained at Meredith, where she majored in English and American civilization. She later returned to Meredith, earning an MBA in 1988.

“Like most English majors, I write well and could not do this job without that skill. I think double majoring, editing the weekly newspaper, and working on Meredith’s theatre productions prepared me for juggling tasks my entire professional career,” Oakley said. “Simply working on Cornhuskin’, Stunt, and the newspaper was a great way to learn teamwork and was solid preparation for much that I currently do.”

Oakley believes in the strength of the Meredith experience. “Meredith changes over time, but remains strong,” Oakley said. “I think what each class takes away is an understanding of the value of friendships, learning, teamwork, and an unlimited potential for ourselves.”

Melyssa Allen

News Director
316 Johnson Hall
(919) 760-8087
Fax: (919) 760-8330