Don’t call them “ladies who lunch.” Sure, they’re ladies. And yes, they’re meeting for lunch at Manolis Projects gallery in Little Haiti. But these are Miami mavens who get stuff done—and help women rise at the same time. So instead, just call them the new network that puts the magic in the Magic City.
Myrthia Natalie Moore
As co-owner of Manolis Projects gallery (with her artist husband, J. Steven Manolis), Myrthia Natalie Moore knows a thing or two about art curation. But she’s also the curator of today’s networking luncheon in the heart of her gallery—a haven for contemporary post-World War II American art pieces by more than 40 artists including Hunt Slonem, Didier Aurat, Fernanda Lavera, Miles Slater, and Jojo Anavim.
Moore has worked as both a finance professional in tax and investment planning, and as a
marriage and family therapy counselor (anyone who has navigated joint finances can see synergies). But she also has a passion for art—a lens she says was honed by her architect father. And while today’s event is just as much about celebrating Manolis Projects’ latest art show, “Relishing Red: The Power of Redworld,” for Moore it’s also about nurturing a network of some of Miami’s most powerful and creative women.
“I have this amazing network of women friends,” she says. “If one of us is having a business problem, we sit down and talk it over. We’re like each other’s board of directors: We identify the problem and we find ways to solve it.” But Moore says it’s more than just power moves. “We support each other on the journey, and those are the kind of women I wanted to invite to the gallery today.”
June Thomson Morris
Miami isn’t rife with people whose history goes back generations—but Coral Gables native June Thomson Morris is among that group. Her mother, Dorothy Thomson, was the first (and only) female mayor of Coral Gables. When Thomson decided to throw her hat into the mayoral ring, The Miami Herald ran a story with the headline, “Distaffer Declares Intent to Run.” (For those unfamiliar with “distaffer”—a term thankfully out of vogue—it means a woman in a field known to be dominated by men.)
Morris recalls how her mother’s opponent was a popular incumbent, and she had no backers except her family; June’s father ran an ad in the Herald that proudly announced his wife was “Supported by all my family: Janice, Joanne, June, Bobby, and Jack.” Despite the odds, Thomson won the 1979 election. (Among other accomplishments during her mayoral tenure, she is credited with saving the historic Biltmore Hotel.)
Morris was inspired by her mother’s ceiling-shattering political career, but she is a powerhouse in her own right: a storyteller who honed her craft first as an Emmy-winning television journalist and later as the founder and president of Profile Communications Group. Morris promotes people and businesses through the power of story. She primarily focuses her prowess on telling the broad history of her husband’s firm, The Allen Morris Company, and nonprofit organizations like Friends of Gables High, a group working to revitalize Coral Gables’ namesake school (and Morris’ alma mater). “I continue to be amazed at what a group of people can accomplish when they are determined to make a difference in their community,” she says.
Carmen Betancourt-Lewis understands that same power of community. That’s why she cofounded Miami Today with her husband, Michael Lewis, nearly 40 years ago. “We created [it] to be a community-builder, pulling people together rather than pushing them apart,” she says of the newspaper she leads as vice president. “The only way we understand each other is if we know something about each other.”
For Betancourt-Lewis, the imperative to reach out and broaden understanding is just as much about the media’s role in the community as it about the connection between women. That’s why she organizes a monthly group called “The Women’s Room”—an invitation-only, Miami-based networking group that brings together successful women to discuss issues of the day. A recent topic (led by an expert guest speaker) was the art and life of Frida Kahlo. To add some fun, Betancourt-Lewis says, “everyone came dressed as the artist herself.”
With Maite Nobo in attendance, this networking luncheon needs no dress-up to represent an accomplished artist. Her work—from paintings to scultpures—is on display throughout Manolis Projects. Her oversized painting in shades of red called Into Battle greets you as you enter the gallery. It’s both an honor and a privilege, Nobo says, to have her work displayed on-site. “It’s the premier gallery of South Florida with a unique vision for the future,” she says. “They help and promote artists of all backgrounds and diversity. They have an eye for exceptional art that will gain in value as well as in importance.”
Nobo calls her artistic style “underground chic,” and is the creator of a proprietary art brand, Big. In a busy world full of constant stimulation, she says her work encourages the viewer to slow down. “My work is meant to calm your senses,” she says. “A refuge that promotes feeling safe and peaceful.”
Ronit Neuman is no stranger to the need for that kind of refuge—and the important role art plays in nurturing it. Back in 2016, she took a tour of her father Edeed Ben Josef’s latest real estate purchase: South Beach’s 1940s-era Sagamore Hotel. What she found was a proverbial blank canvas. Instantly, she says, she knew the space was crying out to be transformed into a major art destination—for guests and for the community at large.
Today, under Neuman’s watchful eye, the Sagamore Hotel partners with leading international galleries and artists to curate unique art exhibits throughout the hotel—including wildly popular NFT art. “The Sagamore is not an ordinary hotel,” Neuman says. “It has always been known as the ‘Art Hotel’ with strong links to the local community and the art world.”
Karen Weiner Escalera
The world of hotels—art-themed (like the Sagamore) or otherwise—is Karen Weiner Escalera’s bread and butter. She’s president and chief strategist of KWE Partners, a marketing and public relations authority in the field of luxury travel and hospitality. Escalera’s love for the industry shines through in her passion-project-turned-viral-sensation: her blog at Miami Curated.
“Making new discoveries and having new experiences is part of my DNA, which is one of the reasons travel has always been a vocation and avocation,” she says of the blog she started as an outlet during a divorce. “I turned to my other passions: food, fashion, culture, a love of journalism.”
Escalera says her passions also include events like today’s luncheon, where making new friendships and rekindling old ones is a reminder about the power of women connecting with one another. “Other women have always been a tremendous resource in my business and professional life,” she says. “I turn to them for everything from advice to business networking to ideas, and of course companionship.”
Case in point: Over lunch, Neuman and Moore sketched out plans for an artistic collaboration between Manolis Projects and the Sagamore Hotel. Escalera invited Morris to write a piece for Miami Curated as a guest blogger. “That’s an example of how women in Miami can support and lift one another up,” Morris says.
Beyond the synergies and networking, Escalera says, the group exchanged advice on everything from business moves to relationship issues. But what advice would these power women give to other women making their way in Miami?
“Educate yourselves and be open-minded, and don’t worry so much about what people [will] think,” Betancourt-Lewis shares.
“Live a life worthy of respect and value,” Nobo says. “People—especially women—are attracted to confidence and are eager to learn how to do it for themselves.”
“We all move so fast through life…slow down and do what it takes to make those connections,” Morris advises. “Women are idea generators. We are creative beings. Sharing that knowledge, experience, and connection is what makes Miami so vibrant and forward-thinking.”
Catering: Bill Hansen Catering
Wine: Joseph Phelps Vineyards
Centerpiece: Twigs and Daisies
Tableware: Front of the House