Charles Phaneuf becomes new director of the United Arts Council

State of the Arts: The United Arts Council welcomes a new director and celebrates local creativity

by Katherine Poole | photography courtesy United Arts Council

The United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County does not make art—it makes art happen. “We like to say we make art happen from A to Z—Apex to Zebulon,” says Lisa McIntosh, director of communications for the private nonprofit, which celebrated 30 years of work in the community last year. It partners with businesses, individuals, foundations and the government to provide arts education to schools and municipalities through advocacy and a variety of programs and services. “It’s hard to come up with our elevator pitch, because we do so much in the community behind the scenes,” says McIntosh. “People may not know our name, but they do know our programs, like Artists in Schools, Wake County Artist in Residence, Municipal Murals and the Piedmont Laureate. They also know our annual fundraiser Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”  

Each year, the council kicks off the new year with the State of the Arts and Culture in Wake County, an information day to share new arts and cultural data, provide information about upcoming arts events, announce the new Piedmont Laureate and other grant recipients and showcase local artistic talent from Wake County schools. State of the Arts will be held January 29 from 4-6 p.m. at the N.C. Museum of History. It is free and open to the public.

Charles Phaneuf

The new year also brings a change in leadership to the United Arts Council. Charles Phaneuf has been named the next president, succeeding Eleanor Oakley, who is retiring after 18 dedicated years of service. 

Phaneuf is no stranger to making art happen: The Raleigh native is a graduate of Enloe High School, where he played saxophone in various bands and played gigs at First Friday events and Artsplosure. “It’s kind of funny that I have come full circle, because United Arts is an organization that supports all of these kinds of things,” says Phaneuf. He went on to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he played in bands and served in leadership positions, including president of the Student Union. Phaneuf headed to Washington, D.C., after college to pursue a career in theatre management. He was the Associate Managing Director at the Shakespeare Theater Company and he is a founding member of the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra and the Capital Fringe Festival, an alternative performing arts festival. 

After a few years in D.C., Phaneuf felt the call to move back home. He was hired as the executive director of Raleigh Little Theatre (RLT) in 2012. At the time, he was only 30, but had the right mix of experience and enthusiasm to lead the beloved community theatre, which has been around since the 1930s. 

The legacy Phaneuf leaves behind at RLT is proof of his passion for arts advocacy. He led a successful capital campaign to update the facility, grew its operating budget and will leave the theater financially secure. Aside from the fiscal health of RLT, Phaneuf says he takes a great deal of pride in the expansion of the theater’s programming. “The focus has been on inclusion and equity,” he says. “It can’t be a community theater unless it’s a true representation of the community.” To that end, RLT was one of the first theaters in the community to work with Arts Access to launch the Wake Arts Inclusion Project. Has also introduced sensory-friendly performances and made their education programs more inclusive county-wide, including expanding their outdoor performance series like Groove in the Garden and Art in the Garden. 

In addition to his duties at RLT, Phaneuf works with Arts North Carolina, a statewide advocacy organization which strives for equity and access to the arts for all North Carolinians. “For the arts to be strong and grow, everybody has to participate. The arts have got to be for everyone,” says Phaneuf. 

Phaneuf will start making art happen for United Arts in early February, and he already has big plans. To date, the council’s Artists in Schools program reaches 120,000 children in Wake County—one of the largest in the country. The catch, Phaneuf says: Wake County has 160,000 school children. “If we believe the arts are for everyone, then why are we not reaching that other 40,000?” 

When he’s not advocating for the arts, Phaneuf still manages to make a little time for himself. He plays saxophone with the North Carolina Symphony two to three times a year. You can catch him next during their March pop series. “I care about arts in the community very much. I truly believe that this is how we build strong communities,” says Phaneuf. Artist and art advocate, Charles Phaneuf is sure to bring our community good counsel.