Sunny Cearley’s new leadership role in supporting the creative community.
Much of the art in Sunny Cearley’s light-filled home was created by Oklahoma artists. “So much of it has been gathered from the Festival of the Arts over the years — I think we’ve almost run out of wall space now,” she said with a smile. For her entire life, art has been close to Cearley, who’s the new president and CEO of Allied Arts Oklahoma City.
“My dad was a compulsive purchaser of fine art, but also of things he found in flea markets,” she said. “It always felt like a prize when he came home with a new piece of art. Growing up surrounded by art shaped my values.”
After completing an undergraduate business degree at Baylor University and a graduate degree at North Texas University, the Graham, Texas, native only planned to work in Oklahoma for a few years. “I thought I would move back to Dallas where all my friends from high school and college lived,” Cearley said. “But I could tell in less than six months that there was so much opportunity for me here. If you raise your hand and say that you want to help with something, they let you. I knew I could be a part of building something in this community that I might not be able to anywhere else.”
Since moving to Oklahoma in 2005, Cearley had held three jobs including her Allied Arts position. She started as the advertising and events coordinator at The Journal Record before becoming its director of sales and community relations, and then she joined the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber in 2015. “I spent the next eight years learning about businesses and economic development, which made it a very natural next step to move to Allied Arts, which is a program created by the Chamber,” she said.
When Allied Arts launched its first fundraising campaign in 1971 to bolster arts and culture in the city’s growing economy, it raised a bit over $300,000. “Our goal this year is to raise $3.6 million for arts in Oklahoma,” Cearley said. “It comes in a number of different ways. We run workplace campaigns, City Card donations, and we work with foundations who support the arts. We do a lot of grant writing, and corporate donations are key.”
Cearley has served with Allied Arts for eight months; her first day on the job was during ARTini, the organization’s annual cocktail competition and fundraiser. She plans to wait on creating a new strategic plan for the program until she has been there for a year. Cearley is passionate about learning the current needs of Oklahoma’s arts community during this time. “We exist to help them. What do they need? What new needs has the pandemic era created? Do they need support with professional development? We have world-class things happening here in Oklahoma — do they need more help getting the word out? How can we bring them greater connectivity to diverse populations?”
Allied Arts officially kick-started its 2023 campaign at Historic Capitol Hill’s Yale Theater in February, by which point it had already raised $1.68 million. What pushes Cearley through the campaign is her and the city’s passion to bridge the arts and the business communities.
“What’s really special about Oklahoma is the way that the corporate community supports the nonprofit community,” she said. “I was recently on a panel for the Greater Oklahoma Chamber about performing arts, and the last question was ‘What makes you decide to stay in Oklahoma City?’ I looked across that room and I couldn’t see a single face that wouldn’t take my call. As a person who asks for help for a living, I can’t imagine a better place to be.”