Joanne Van Ness Menashe has done a great many things in her illustrious career working for nonprofits throughout the state, but it’s her latest position with the Oregon Ballet Theatre that is bringing her back to her roots. Though she got a degree in botany, plant pathology from Oregon State University, Menashe knew before even graduating that a career in the performing arts was something she wanted to pursue.
“Even though I was really good at it, I was pretty aware by my senior year that I really didn’t want to spend my life doing science,” Menashe says with a laugh. “I had been dancing, singing and doing musical theater since I was 5, including dancing with the Oregon State University dance theater, so I opened my own dance school in Corvallis for a few years after graduating. Dancing really is my first love.”
From there Menashe went on to head the arts and education program for Benton and Linn counties, where she had a hand in every aspect of the process from interviewing artists, to reaching out to schools and working with administrators to making sure programs were put into place, raising money and writing brochures. There was another aspect of that job that would forge the path in what would turn out to be a long career in the arts and nonprofits.
“My favorite part of that job was going out to the rural communities where they had been devastated by the downturn in the timber industry. They were just so hungry for the arts and any sort of an experience that would help the children. It was amazing to see the whole community get involved,” says Menashe. “It was at that point that I realized how important the arts and arts education is to communities, to children and the way that they learn, and of course for providing jobs and economic stimulus.”
Menashe, who was born in Central Washington, spent a few more years in Corvallis where she eventually worked for the Oregon Advocates for the Arts and became the executive director of the Downtown Corvallis Association, before moving to Portland to become the director of development for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in their Portland office.
“For someone who loves theater so much, being a part of that was so amazing. I particularly loved being able to see the behind-the-scenes action, from the costumes, to the tech rehearsals and lighting and sound – it’s amazing to see what goes into performances.”
After a stint working in real estate with her husband, Joe Menashe, she felt the pull back to nonprofit work. She began working as the director of individual development at the Oregon Symphony, where she helped raised millions of dollars. She once again immersed herself in the arts while feeling she was making a difference.
She has also exhibited her commitment to community with numerous volunteer roles throughout the years. Menashe has served as the vice president of the Portland section of the National Council of Jewish Women, and as a board member of the OHSU Center for Women’s Health and the Oregon chapter of Dress For Success, to name just a few. An active member of Congregation Beth Israel in Northwest Portland, Menashe also participates in the sisterhood and the Kol Echad choir.
“Making a difference is really what most of us want to do and at the end of the day there isn’t anything else in this life.”
In her new position as vice president of development and marketing of the Oregon Ballet Theatre, she feels she is doing just that. “What I want to see for the ballet is for it to continue to be able to present the highest quality repertoire with dancers of the highest caliber,” says Menashe. “More importantly though, I want the community to value and support the arts because if we don’t we will lose them.”
A Portland transplant, Lauren Murphy is a lifestyle writer and editor whose articles have been published in Los Angeles Confidential, Aspen Peak, Hamptons Magazine and The New Jersey Star-Ledger. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.