Art Works Blog

Inside the NEA: Meet Winona Varnon, NEA Deputy Chairman for Management & Budget

Knock knock. Who’s there? Winona Varnon. Winona Varnon who? Our new management and budget chief—and a former stand-up comedian—that’s who. Law school might have put an end to her comedy career, but lucky for us she still loves the arts! We spoke with Winona about her favorite artists, how she fell in love with the arts, and, of course, her take on “Art works.”

NEA: In five words or less who is Winona Varnon?

WINONA VARNON: A visual story teller

NEA: What do you remember as your earliest experience with the arts?

VARNON: Music on Saturday morning—blues and jazz, and on Sunday morning [listening to] gospel. I was four and fell in love with all types of music.

What brought you to the NEA?

VARNON: It was an opportunity to merge my skills as an administrator with my love for art—all forms.

NEA: Before coming to the NEA, you worked for the Department of Education. How does your experience there contribute to your work here at the agency?

VARNON: The Department of Education helped me to understand a domestic non–law enforcement agency. That experience prepared me well for the work at the Arts Endowment.

NEA: I understand you were a stand-up comedian for a while. What was that like?

VARNON: I did stand-up comedy for two years in college. It was a lot of fun and it made me a great presenter. I graduated, and that stopped my endeavor into comedy. I went on to law school instead.

NEA: Who are some of the artists that inspire you?

VARNON: Some of the old school—Van Gogh, Maya Angelou, Jacob Lawrence, Henry Miller, August Wilson.

NEA: What would people be most surprised to learn about you?

VARNON: That I had a speech impediment from the ages of four to ten that was so severe I had to write to communicate.

NEA: What does Art Works mean to you?

VARNON: For me it means that Art Works to change people, to change thoughts, to change the environment. Art works to enrich and enhance.

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