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Meet the Staff Donna Collins

Meet the Staff: Donna Collins, Executive Director

Up and out of her rural Ohio home by 6:45 a.m. and into the bustling streets of downtown Columbus, Ohio Arts Council (OAC) Executive Director Donna Collins begins each day reading the news and answering emails from constituents. Then, a typical day for Donna involves several hours of phone calls—with OAC board members; statewide partners; potential partners; and, most importantly, grantees or potential grantees—discussing ways in which more can be done for the arts in Ohio. “We work for Ohioans, so they deserve top priority,” Collins said.

Ohio Arts Council Executive Director Donna Collins and OAC Board Chair Ginger Warner.Q. Before joining the OAC in 2014, you had more than 20 years of work with nonprofits. Can you tell us a bit about your background before coming to serve as the OAC’s executive director?
Instead of going all the way back, let’s start with my time  in Southwestern City Schools. It was there that I taught Head Start, and later served as an elementary librarian. I did some corporate work with an architectural firm after that, and then I moved into nonprofits. You learn as you get older that a job provides a wage, but as you age you realize that your heart needs to fuller than your wallet.

My nonprofit work began with the Ohio PTA.  I loved that work because I could engage with people who cared about students, teachers, good policies, and schools. This opened the door for me to learn about what was happening in schools all around the state. After that, I went to work for the Ohio Alliance for Arts Education as their executive director. This work was very important to me on a personal level because my oldest son was a theatre kid. My son fought hard to give theatre in schools the recognition it deserved and so often doesn’t get. It seemed fitting that when I went to the Ohio Alliance for Arts Education that I could carry along his message about the need for all of the arts in all schools for all kids.

During my time with the Ohio Alliance for Arts Education, I was also the director of Ohio Citizens for the Arts (OCA). So, imagine the opportunities: working with the Alliance , OCA, and  the OCA Foundation. With three different boards who met quarterly, all on different schedules, it was a very busy time of exciting work! It was the dream job working alongside  people who valued the collective statewide voice to advocate for public funding for the arts and statewide arts education policy.

Donna Collins with Governor Mike DeWine and First Lady Fran DeWine.Q. What role did the arts play in your life growing up?
When I was a little girl, I wanted so badly to play the flute. I began taking lessons in my elementary school’s make-shift music room, also known as the teacher’s lounge. The very first song I learned to play was “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Every time I tried to play the song while standing up, I would pass out from not being able to breathe adequately while playing.  My teacher thought the clarinet would be more my style. I then switched to playing the clarinet and played through junior high. I made many friends through our music program. In high school I did a few plays and met so many people I wouldn’t have otherwise met. My dad collected visual art, and though we weren’t wealthy, he knew what he liked and what we could afford. In our home today I still have a few of the pieces he collected.

Chance and Cierra Collins and Howard Collins at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio.Q. What do you like to do outside of work?
I absolutely love spending time with my family, they are very important to me. I have three sons, a grandgirl, grandboy, and a great-grandchild. I love to read. I love to go to the theatre, especially at the college level because it gives me hope to see so many talented young adults  both onstage and backstage. I love going to Picnic with the Pops—just so much energy there at outdoor concerts on the lawn.

I’ve been watching a lot of dance during the pandemic, and I appreciate the dance companies who expanded their programming to virtual in 2020. I’ve been especially interested in the OhioDance Virtual Dance Collection. It’s an interactive website documenting and preserving the amazing diversity of dance history in the state of Ohio.

Q. What do you appreciate most about working with the OAC?
I love the staff, board, and fellows who I have the opportunity to work side-by-side with. To see everyone engage so closely with constituents and care so much about their success, that’s what really fills my heart up. The Ohio Arts Council is among the best arts agencies in the nation providing the arts in all 88 counties—for all Ohioans.

Donna Collins and Senator Eric Kearney at Ohio Poetry Out Loud.I also love that my role is often to introduce folks to what the OAC has to offer and  connect them to what’s happening in the state. Sometimes there is a misconception about what state agencies do. When a constituent calls me on the phone and asks about applying for a grant I let them know we are here to help them through the process.  I am very proud to say to applicants and grantees that, “We are about YOUR mission, YOUR vision, and what you can bring to YOUR community through the arts.” I can almost hear the smile in their voice on the other end of the phoneline.

I believe in the power of the arts and what they bring to individuals and communities. And, what I know for sure is that the arts in Ohio are better when we work together, and that will always be true.

The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at


Article by Cassie Rea, 2021 Ohio Arts Council Arts Administration Fellow
Photos courtesy of Donna Collins

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