“Cincinnati is a good city for creating a place for yourself,” Ena Nearon Menefield, who has been here since 1996, says.  Her own background, as a woman of color, makes her an experienced judge in such matters. Originally from New York City, the place where she raised her children, and later resident in California, she came to the Cincinnati area for a reason not unknown to grandparents: grandchildren are here. Eight of them. Her home is now in Florence, Kentucky.

Also born here, about five years ago she said, is the company she has founded: Ten Talents Network. Its customers are small brand businesses; its services include content writing projects, social media marketing management, web site design.

She says, of the art she is most interested in, “People need to be aware of where we were and where we’re going.  That’s where we come in, with the art.” The “we” includes Ricci Michaels, artist, muralist and community advocate and business partner of Menefield.  Michaels, also black, heads the Urban Expressions 101 Project, which manages and curates the Women’s Art Gallery at the YWCA in downtown Cincinnati. The three of us talked in a section of the current show, reviewed elsewhere in this issue of aeqai.

Menefield, with her marketing background and experience with event managing, says that “things began to take off with Ricci involved.” She feels society is going through change, that social justice is expanding. The current show at the Y, which opened March 8 and features nine women artists,  is a popular success because of its themes and the presence of women’s work. The YWCA reports that people are coming in to see the exhibition – “more visitors than in several years.”

“Women put a lot of themselves into this show,” Menefield told me. Publicity for the exhibition features the artists; “we want to get the message out. Yes, there have been important changes but you have to keep after it.”

Menefield had a special role in her earlier career as a promotional coordinator for regional and national cosmetics companies in the early 1970s. New products, meant for African American women, presented unexpected hurdles for the white sales clerks and also for the black customers. “My job was to create relationships between customers and sales clerks by modeling avenues of conversation that were familiar and, not surprisingly, similar,” she says.

“I’m a person who has hope,” Menefield told me. “Having hope is critical.” She is clearly a person who has honed her own skills in making things happen. The communication means of modern life are tools she thoroughly understands and uses: team building, proposal writing, business plan writing, major event coordination. She’s an experienced public speaker, understands facilitating groups and corporate training projects. Her projects have also included professional therapeutic counseling partnerships. Not surprisingly, she’s a former vice president for public relations for the Toastmasters organization and has done comparable work for several well known visual arts individuals and related community organizations.

All these accomplishments share a common goal: increased understanding of one another. “Let’s keep having the conversation,” she says. The conversation will be brisk and inclusive at an upcoming program she is involved in at the YWCA Greater Cincinnati, 898 Walnut Street, Friday, April 5, at 6 p.m.: “Womanist Movement Panel Discussion.” With the aim of bridging the gap between white women and women of color, the program is planned to foster discussion with artists, collectors, community activists “to discuss how artwork can influence change.” There is no charge for admission; ideas are sure to be circulating at a brisk pace..

Ideas are Menefield’s stock in trade. She helped to found the Boone County Visual Arts Association, has been Senior Event Coordinator for the Cincinnati Art Museum, and served as interim director of the Noel Pointer Music Camp in upstate New York. The results of these activities benefit society as a whole; they also make the society, black and white, a more cohesive, less divided entity.

We talked some about how art tells stories, and also about the importance of simply talking about things. “Let’s keep having the conversation,” she said. The conversation is enhanced by the art and thoughts of people like Ena Nearon Menefield.

–Jane Durrell

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