Inside the NEA: Meet Marisa Marinos, NEA Director of Civil Rights/EEO
"[A]rt works as a verb to make lives better, to inspire learning, to express emotion, to heal and grow, to add value, to add to the quality of life."---Marisa Marinos
So you know that person who always introduces herself in the elevator, has a stack of K-cups at the ready so she can always invite you over for coffee, and is easily identifiable by her laugh? Well, that's Marisa Marinos, who directs the Civil Rights/EEO office. Marinos is as passionate about the arts as she is about her work, which is just one of many things you'll learn about her in this interview.
NEA: In five words or less, who is Marisa Marinos?
MARISA MARINOS: Passionate, creative, sunny, caretaking communicator.
NEA: What do you remember as your earliest experience with the arts?
MARINOS: I remember craft projects in nursery school and Girl Scouts. My mom took us to plays and shows in New York City. My grandmother sewed. In high school, my art teacher, Mr. O'Brien, gave us great painting supplies, showed slides of paintings, and took us to SoHo [in New York City] to visit galleries. I am still in awe with the beauty and serenity of museums/galleries/performing arts centers and I like to visit them often. I continue to take various art courses. Most recently, I taught someone to knit after a course [at the] evening Smithsonian program. I like helping people and art so I volunteered that day. I think that is a good description of why I am at the NEA.
NEA: Why did you want to work at the National Endowment for the Arts?
MARINOS: The brief answer is that I have always held art as my most loved hobby/interest, and I have always worked in civil rights since law school. While my previous jobs were interesting, they did not deal with art. A close friend forwarded me the vacancy announcement and I said to myself, "This is it; this is perfect."
NEA: Before coming to the NEA, you worked for the United States Coast Guard. How did your experience there contribute to your work here at the agency?
MARINOS: Let me start by stating that I was a civilian employee and did not drive boats. I taught sexual harassment prevention, processed complaints, and assisted with climate issues. As a manager, I supervised military and civilian employees. Each person and experience was a lesson---about leadership, enforcement of rules, about encouraging/coaching good work, and how to respond to serious situations. I learned the value of training for myself and my staff. It also taught me to justify what my mission needed. After working with wonderful military members,and since my brother is a Major in the Army, it helped me to appreciate NEA's programs such as Blue Star Museum and the work with Walter Reed Medical Center.
NEA: What is the importance of diversity in the arts and at the agency?
MARINOS: Diversity means different things to different people. I would define it as including but not limited to race, sex, national origin, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, military status, work experience, what state you are from, socioeconomic factors, whether you are or were living in an urban/suburban/rural area, what your family structure is and was like, a person’s ethics, level of education, extrovert or introvert, etc.
Here at the NEA for our grantees, my office enforces the Civil Rights laws so that people can access our programs free of discrimination because of protected characteristics, including but not limited to disability and national origin.
For our colleagues, a conversation about diversity reaches beyond Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) and working free of harassment and discrimination. It is about communication, collaboration, and respect. Who do you promote? Who do you call to solve a problem? Who do you go to lunch with? Do you attend cultural events? Do you assume the best or worse in a certain person?
We have a Diversity and Inclusion committee and newsletter here at the NEA. There are also brochures in front of my office, including “Teach Your Child About Diversity.” I think if you practice diversity at home, it will strengthen character and fairness.
NEA: Who are some of the artists who inspire you?
MARINOS: While studying abroad in Spain for college, I visited many museums in the area and became drawn to artists such as Monet, Seurat, Van Gough, Cezanne, and Klimt. I also appreciate Georgia O’Keefe’s landscapes/composition. I like to walk up to a painting and stare at the brushstrokes.
Parc Güell by Gaudi in Barcelona was one of the most amazing places I can remember with outdoor art, music, and sunshine. I also love the Musee Rodin [in Paris]. I am a fan of photography such as Ansel Adams (and my husband is getting very good at photography). I admire poets including Garcia Lorca and Walt Whitman, and writers such as Isabel Allende, and various political speeches (such as [those by] John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr.). I think O Magazine and Chef Michael Chiarello are artful. I am on a Denzel Washington marathon (which started after seeing him in the play Fences). I listen to a mix of music including Abba, Carla Bruni, Sting, Sinatra, 80s pop, and hip hop at home. At work you will find Bob Marley, Yanni or Yo-Yo Ma playing in my office to soothe people.
NEA: You describe yourself as a novice artist. Can you talk a little bit about your artwork?
MARINOS: I like to paint watercolor landscapes. An ideal setting is on a beach painting with my older nephew. Some examples (of his work and mine) are in my office.
I also like calligraphy (I addressed my wedding invitations), knitting (I made my younger nephew's Christening blanket and am currently working on something for my niece), and writing poetry. I tend to write when I am very happy or sad. For example, I wrote and read a poem for my grandfather's funeral. Once, I submitted poetry in place of a final paper in college.
NEA: What would people be most surprised to learn about you?
MARINOS: I like Johnny Cash's music (from my dad’s influence), which is usually surprising for a Jersey Girl. More salient is that I studied in Spain for a semester in college. There, I learned standpoint theory while not being a local/citizen, and having a different language, culture, religion, and habits. The best part of each day or location was being surrounded by amazing art and sunsets with lifelong friends. !Y me gusta pracitar el espanol!
NEA: What does Art Works mean to you?
MARINOS: I love our logo and graphic. I think this phrase can be interpreted many ways. I see Art Works as kind of a mission statement at the NEA. I also see it as art works as a verb to make lives better, to inspire learning, to express emotion, to heal and grow, to add value, to add to the quality of life.