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Meet the Staff - Justin Nigro

Meet the Staff: Justin Nigro, Operations & Public Affairs Director

Hailing from Ashtabula, Ohio, Justin Nigro has dedicated his career to public service. Justin, the Ohio Arts Council’s (OAC) operations and public affairs director, also holds titles of spouse, father, and past “Jeopardy!” champion.

Q: How did you end up at the OAC?
I had worked in state government before joining the Ohio Arts Council. I was moving back in 2014 from Chicago, where I worked as the executive director of a coalition that sought to protect and make solvent public pensions in a fair way for all. Hoping to restart my public service in Ohio, I was excited to move back to Columbus with the dream of uniting my passion and love for the arts with my passion and love for public service. Because of the timing of my move, there happened to be an opening at the OAC. Donna Collins had just become the executive director and was looking for an executive assistant. I applied and got the job, and since 2017 I’ve served as the operations and public affairs director with the agency. It’s a wonderful job.

Q: Where did you get your education, and what did you study?
I studied political science and international studies at Miami University. After that, I had thought I wanted a career in foreign service, and I thought that the best way for me to serve my country globally would be to get some domestic experience. So, I earned an internship with the Legislative Service Commission. Through the LSC Internship program I worked in the Ohio Senate to learn state-level policies, programs, and agencies. I ended up really loving public service at the state level because I could see the impact of public service closely. I liked that I knew that I was serving people in Ohio. I love the state and have always gravitated home, wherever else I’ve been.

Elia and Esme Boulton-NigroQ. Can you tell me about your family?
I met my wife working in the Ohio Senate. We were married in 2012, and moved to Chicago shortly thereafter. We moved back to Ohio and hoped to start a family. We have been very fortunate to have two daughters, Elia and Esmé. Along with my spouse, they are the three loves of my life! I am a father and spouse first and everything else comes after that.

Q. So going back even further, what role did the arts play in your youth?
The arts were always fundamental to my identity when I was younger. I’m someone who really enjoyed art classes all throughout school. I was active in theatre, I loved to write, I played piano, I edited and shot photos for our yearbook, I eventually started painting. I’ve had a well-rounded experience with the arts. I don’t know that I was particularly excellent at any of those things, but I enjoyed them and I think that’s where my love for the arts originates. As I grew up, I realized what mattered to me wasn’t so much the performance or the act of artmaking but how art impacted my worldview: what I value, how I learn, how I cultivate empathy, and how I take into account bigger perspectives than my own. That’s what the arts gave to me when I was younger, and what I hope the arts provide now through the work we do with the OAC.

Q. Not many people can say they’ve been on “Jeopardy!” – and fewer can say that they’ve won!  Tell me about what that experience was like for you.
Justin Nigro and Alex Trebek on the set of Jeopardy!I’ve always loved to learn, no matter the school subject. I always had this thirst for knowledge, and bits of trivia have always stuck with me. In college I found out that you could test online annually for the opportunity to audition to be on “Jeopardy!” So, I went online each year and took a timed test of about 50 questions with no idea of how I did. I never expected to hear back. Eventually, I got a call inviting me to do another timed, in-person test as well as a screen test. I went to Detroit with several other folks who had taken the test and scored well enough. Then the group of us played a mock-game on camera that day. I think a lot of it was so that producers could see your personality on camera. They coached us on how to keep the game moving. They said things like, “Don’t be afraid to shorten category names.” I left the mock-game having absolutely no idea if I would get the call and no idea how I had done. Then, in February of 2014, I got the call that I made it! I flew out to Los Angeles right around St. Patrick’s Day that year, and my episode aired in July. I won my first game, but was totally exhausted by the second show.  I have to say that I greatly admire the people who win more than one game because I was drained after just one.

Q. What do you love most about working with the OAC?
I love to serve different communities across the state. I recognize that communities in Ohio have been through some hard times, and it makes me all the more passionate about public service. Deep down, I think that Ohio is just a great place to live, and not just because I’ve made my home here. Ohio has such a rich history and wealth of creative folks. I believe Ohio can have a bright future if we can keep inspiring creative folks to consider staying or locating here. It’s a place where creative people can live affordably, have a career just as robust as one could have on the coasts, and have rich experiences.


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 Justin Nigro

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