Meet the Women of Cincy Team: Dani Clark
Preparing to interview Dani Clark was a little stressful for me – I’d been told she’s an exceptionally good interviewer. I wondered how the role-switching would feel for us, but I needn’t have been worried. Her relaxed demeanor and the care with which she responded to each question left me in awe. I was impressed by how thoughtful and purposeful she is. Curious to the core, she couldn’t stop herself from asking our photographer, Katie, and I what our responses would have been to my questions.
That curiosity and experience as an interviewer made her the perfect person to talk to about what sets communities in Cincinnati apart, the purpose of storytelling, and the importance of asking questions.
Interview by Erin Glynn. Photography by Katie Ferchen.
Well, I’m sure you’re familiar with the standard opener to every feature. Do you mind telling us a little bit about yourself?
I think I have always considered myself a question-asker. Whether in my paid work, my creative work, or even in my relationship with myself, I feel like it’s been about learning to ask better questions. So I feel like that’s an important component of my life. It touches every aspect of it.
I work for a local startup called Untold Content, and we work with thought-generating organizations, translating their insights to different audiences. It’s a lot like school. [Laughs.] I enjoy it a lot.
I’m currently working on a project called Continuance, which I love talking about because I’m obsessed with memory and memory work. Basically, we take memory and turn it into art by interviewing people, posing the prompt: Tell us about a place you cannot return to. And we take our audio collection of those responses and share them with artists to do their own translation of that.
Oh, wow, that’s awesome.
Yeah, thanks! The goal is to have an exhibit one day where people from the community can come in and listen to the memories while looking at the art that has been made from them. So, those are kind of the two primary things in my life right now.
How would you explain what a thought-generating organization is?
Sure! We kind of leave it purposefully vague because we want to include as many people as possible, but we work within four primary industries: science, medical, technical, and human impact. That often looks like research organizations or organizations that require research, so health care organizations and sometimes chemical companies. We do a lot of government work, sometimes we work with nonprofits to do grant-writing. It can look like so many different things, but we’re all about sharing the insights of people who are doing innovative work.
So have you always lived in Cincinnati?
I haven’t. But I’ve lived in Cincinnati long enough to answer the “where did you go to high school” question.
Oh, well, where did you go to high school?
[Laughs.] I went to Amelia High School. Raised on the East Side, but I was born in Chicago. I spent a good portion of my childhood in Seattle, and I moved here in middle school.
And how would you describe your relationship to the city?
My relationship is really interesting, I would say. Because my mom works for U.C., I had the incredible benefit of receiving tuition remission, but that also meant that I wasn’t given a lot of college options. So I think for a long time I had this idea that staying in Cincinnati for college was limiting and that Cincinnati wasn’t exciting enough for me. Throughout my college years, that shifted, because I was seeing different parts of the city other than the East Side. I also moved away and did some work internationally.
I lived in the Philippines for a few months, and I moved to North Carolina for a couple years and, in that distance, I recognized the benefits of Cincinnati. I came back here for the job that I’m currently working at – a sort of dream job – but also just really appreciating how much the people in this city are willing to connect and help lift ideas.
For example, with Continuance, I’ve been able to find so many people: artists, nonprofit organizers, and community organizers who are willing to share their experiences and help out. There’s just this sense of community here that I had not seen in a lot of other places, particularly with the arts and music parts of the community. So my relationship to Cincinnati right now is really positive.
(P.S. Join us for BLINK this year at local gallery, Frameshop, October 11-13 to celebrate our collected memories with an audio-visual installation. We’ll be featuring a giant cloud sculpture and memory soundscapes from local humans.)
I think that there’s a self-awareness to Cincinnati. There have been a lot of problematic things historically and there are people here who are committed to working on that. I respect that a lot because there are some places that have almost no awareness of that and not a lot of active momentum towards something different, whereas I feel like – at least in the communities that I feel a part of – there is this change-making tone here.
So what brought you to Women of Cincy?
You know what’s funny? I was thinking of this earlier today, origin story-wise. I was just starting to work out of Union Hall when Kiersten and Chelsie were also working out of Union Hall. I had been talking to them right before they went to the Women’s March and then directly after the Women’s March and kind of hearing this idea expand from, “Yeah, we’re just going to interview people while we’re at the march” to full-fledged “Let’s do a publication.”
Like I said, I’ve always been interested in question-asking and interviewing, and Kiersten and I had been talking one day and I was like, “Yeah, if you ever need support with interview work, I am so there for that.” I want to uphold the women of our city, and I think this is a very unique way of doing that so it just was pretty happenstantial. I just so happened to be standing in the kitchen when they were already talking about it.
You touched on wanting to lift up women, but what did you hope to gain from the experience for yourself?
Yeah, I mean, I’m gonna continue coming back to this question-asking thing because it truly is just such a pervasive theme in my life. But I – in an almost selfish way – just wanted a space where I could sit down and talk to different parts of our community, different life experiences, and different folks, and be able to ask all these questions. And a lot of the question-asking for me is just, “What am I thinking about in life currently?” And, “What are other people thinking about?” And, “How in the sharing of those experiences can we grow together?”
That’s the best part. It’s not even just the questions, but the potential in the responses. There’s something more when you share conversation together – your thoughts kind of become something more together.
What does empathy mean to you, and how do you use it in your work?
I love the concept of empathy. When I think of Continuance work, the memory sharing experience, or any interview work, I’m really interested in that space between the person who is sharing an answer or memory, and the person listening, as just this space of possibility for creation and also healing. I think that communication can sometimes get a bad rap for all the misunderstandings that can occur in that space as well, but I am particularly interested in all the ways we can use it as a creative space. I think that empathy has a lot to do with that process and how you can support that. So what empathy means to me is this acknowledgement that everything you share with me, I try to imagine by pulling from my own personal history, context, and lenses and through conversation – and pretty much conversation alone – can we kind of close that gap and come closer to understanding.
But I think that first empathetic step of recognizing that someone has this unrevealed personal history that they have the opportunity to share with you is really an important part. So I try to remember that context in almost every interaction I have: that there are so many unknowns, and that it’s an honor to receive any kind of story from another person, and to try and think of my own experiences and storytelling as a gift to other people. I think empathy is a gift. And storytelling and question-asking: gifts, for sure.
So what is your favorite quality about yourself?
Oh, I love that question! I really love the question-asking thing. I like the questions that occur to me to ask and to kind of add a different level or layer to that. I appreciate that I notice small things and gather a lot of joy from them.
So to give a specific example: My roommate’s room has a specific way that the light comes through at a very specific time in the morning when I just so happen to be back there to use the restroom. So when I exit the bathroom most mornings, there’s a light that’s cast on the wall that moves in such a subtle but interesting shape and sort of way that I’m just made breathless by it. And that sounds so extreme, but just that quality of noticing something like that and giving it that space and time for me to enjoy it [laughs] and think it’s beautiful.
I feel like I have experienced that more than a few occasions lately and felt like maybe this isn’t something other people experience? I hope it is! But this is something I value about my own life-scape, that I can notice this.
Where do you see Women of Cincy, or your role in it, in five years? What do you dream for the organization?
That’s an exciting question. Oh my gosh, I think a lot of things. I feel like Women of Cincy already is such a living, breathing organism in this city right now, and I’d love to see that in a more present way. And I’m probably informing my response from knowing that a goal of theirs is to have a physical space, but I am just enchanted by that idea. I would just love for there to be more spaces for women to have access to resources, relationships, and conversation, and if that’s something that can happen in the next five years? Wow. I would be so excited for that because I think that it’s needed. I’m so glad that they are a powerful voice right now and I’m excited for them to be an even more powerful presence. And I’m excited to keep asking the people who build this organization questions and be a part of it.
So to wrap up – you know this question – tell us about an influential woman in your life.
The list is so incredibly long. I guess from the origins, it’s hard not to say my mom. I wouldn’t be anywhere near as curious or able to communicate my thoughts the way I would like if it weren’t for my mom. I think that has always been her bread and butter as well, so she’s an incredibly influential person for that reason – it’s so foundational.
Gosh, this is so tough! Now I’m experiencing empathy for all the interviewees who are like, “How do you answer this question?” I’m like, “Come on, there’s just so many people to talk about!”
And then, my boss Katie [Trauth Taylor]. Katie has taught me a lot about not being afraid to fail, and valuing myself for my abilities and trusting in that. I always think about the way that Katie loves me in ways that I didn’t even know I needed to be loved, and it’s a lot in that arena: in teaching me through her own fearlessness, in her own ability to pursue what she wants, and not be inhibited by fear. Fear is always going to exist, but Katie has made it seem so possible to move in spite of fear, and to do it in a loving way. It has been an incredibly influential relationship in my life.
My closest friendships are, on a daily level, influential to me with my creativity and with my confidence, and teaching me about love and belonging and I don’t think there’s anything really more important than those things. So yeah, thanks, women! [Laughs.] Changing my life over here.