8 Cool Jobs
careers that go beyond the cubicle
Ashlee Arceneaux Jones
Danley C Romero
While many of us sit at desks day after day, there are some who have jobs that take them to exciting places creating and performing while pursuing their dreams. Imagine writing and producing music for your own record label, playing calliope on a steam-powered paddlewheel or raising and breeding penguins. These tasks are all in a day’s work for these “cool jobs” holders. Read on to learn more about these eight New Orleanians who are never at a loss of words when asked, “What do you do for a living?”
Note: Interviews were edited for brevity
Founder, Ariya Apothecary
Age: 30 How would you describe what you do? Ariya Apothecary is a small-batch natural skincare company. My mission is to make skincare simple, effective and affordable. What makes your job “cool?” To be able to devote myself to something I’ve created simply because I love it, and to own all the creative and business decisions.
I originally created these products in an attempt to solve my own skincare issues. I soon realized some of my closest friends were struggling with similar issues with their skin. I started making products that I wanted to use, and when I shared them, my friends saw their skin problems improve, too! What is the most fun part of your job? The most fun part of my job is reading positive messages from my customers! What makes it less cool? Working with bulk orders is fantastic, because it helps get my product to many customers at once.
However, it can be stressful to fulfill mass orders under tight deadlines. What are you most excited about? I recently partnered with a subscription box in Australia; I’m really excited to see Ariya Apothecary go international! I’m also excited about making Ariya Apothecary products available through partnerships with New Orleans businesses (it’s currently online only). What do most people not know about your job? Ariya Apothecary’s mission isn’t just about skincare, it’s about cultivating a simple lifestyle. My goal is to share information on how you can unclutter your life, so you can focus your time and money on the things that really matter to you and bring you joy. What advice would you give someone who wants to do what you do? Whenever you’re thinking about starting a company, think about what problem you’re solving and for whom you’re solving it. It doesn’t matter what it is, starting a business is hard, and starting a business alone is even harder. Outsource where you can; don’t try to do it all.
Founder, Old New Orleans Rum; Inventor of Gingeroo; Artist; Rum Maker; Fun Maker; Entrepreneur
Age: 65 How would you describe what you do? I create beautiful and desirable things. What makes your job “cool?” It’s really cool that there’s a great deal of unknown in my work. I let life direct me.
As a rum maker I’m passionate about the fermentation and distillation process, and I’ve set out to make an incredible rum. The drive is great and the hard work is fruitful. Old New Orleans Rum’s 20th anniversary King Creole has just been named the highest rated rum in America and equal to the best in the world according to the American Beverage Tasting Institute. What is the most fun part of your job? It’s a wonderful thing to make something that’s beautiful or poignant. It’s a great feeling to release something that will give others continual pleasure. What makes it less cool? Time pressures to stay up and complete a work, and the pressures to expand the business aspects. What are you most excited about?
The creation of wonder. Taking a challenge and crafting a solution
I also spend my summers at my home in Burgundy, France and I’ve just received word that there will be an exhibition of my work in the south of France. This is on the heels of opening an art exhibition at Linare/Brecht in Maui, Hawaii, and I’m in the middle of finalizing details on an upcoming show in Laguna, California. What do most people not know about your job? That being an artist requires a lot of focused work. There is a discipline and persistence required to succeed. What advice would you give someone who wants to do what you do? Go into nursing, and if you insist on being an artist, listen to your heart, if it is what you love – then share it.
Be prepared for anything because it will surely happen. Get up, celebrate your life and the opportunity to create and give.
“NOLA-ssistant;” Assistant Booking Manager, Lagniappe Brass Band; Member, Sugar Bowl Committee
Age: 55 How would you describe what you do? I do a little of everything, from taking the artist to their favorite New Orleans restaurant to zipping them up. I’m a runner, tour guide, bodyguard, helper and personal assistant. I make sure the artist has anything they may need to perform, including those little quirky things they enjoy. What makes your job “cool?”
I’m blessed to be around talented people every day. My assignments have included assisting college football teams, women’s basketball teams, a very special NFL Head Coach and his wife, numerous musicians, magicians, illusionists, television reporters, professional dancers and even a medium. It’s a hoot walking the French Quarter with Anderson Cooper, or eating beignets with David Crosby, or watching street magicians with Raymond Teller. And it was way cool walking through The National World War II Museum with Eddie Izzard in his Christian Louboutin heels. What is the most fun part of your job? I enjoy quiet time with the artist. And rehearsal and sound check, especially when and artists like Diana Krall or Sarah McLachlan tickle the ivories and play a little New Orleans tune. What makes it less cool? It’s usually just a one-night performance; a 16- to 20-hour period. What are you most excited about? I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to interact and, in some cases, become longtime friends with some of the artists. Also, this summer I’m involved in an upcoming project with a nationally syndicated show that will be filming in our city. What do most people not know about your job? Most people have no idea what I’m doing these days. Discretion and privacy for the artist is the utmost importance to me. What advice would you give someone who wants to do what you do? Never give up on your dream; you never know when an opportunity will arise. It’s never too late to have the life you dreamed about.
Ashlee Arceneaux Jones
Illustrator, Lettering Artist; Owner,Smallchalk
Age: 32 How would you describe what you do? I’m a visual artist specializing in illustration and stylized lettering; I also do editorial work and custom wedding stationary and signage. I got my start (and my business name) by creating chalkboard menus and murals. What makes your job “cool?” I think it’s cool to take a client’s message and bring it to life; even more so when my work becomes an important element of their identity or branding. What is the most fun part of your job? I really enjoy the creative process that I must go through for any project that I take on – specifically, the brainstorming phase. What makes it less cool? Being your own boss means you have to “wear all the hats.” It requires a great deal of self-discipline to stay on top of your game when you don’t punch a clock. What are you most excited about? It’s exciting to always be chasing bigger clients and bigger gigs.
Expanding the range of creative services I can provide my clients has been key to keeping things exciting. What do most people not know about your job? Something that I often hear (which is mostly well-intentioned) is, “You’re so lucky, you just get to draw all day.” While to a certain extent that’s true, research, conceptualization, editing and actual execution of the work are each a separate and laborious part of my process. I have only reached a point where I can work quickly and efficiently by years of practice and training. What advice would you give someone who wants to do what you do? Stay focused on your goals, stay confident, do your research and learn as much as you can about your craft. Be disciplined and intentional with your work. Most importantly, be yourself and find your own identity so that you stand out in the crowd.
Calliope Player, Steamboat Natchez
Age: 61 Occupation: Calliope player on the Steamboat Natchez. How would you describe what you do? This "job" is more or less one-of-a-kind in New Orleans; we’re one of only a very few fully steam-powered paddlewheel boats operating in the U.S. Playing this steam calliope is like being part of steamboat and New Orleans history. What makes your job “cool?” It’s the only steam calliope played three times a day, most every day, in the Port of New Orleans. What is the most fun part of your job? Watching passengers from all over the world thoroughly enjoy what they’re experiencing. I see them on the dock dancing, bouncing, waving, sometimes even singing along. The concerts last for 15 minutes or so.
(Sometimes the crowd will shout for an encore and I'm most happy to oblidge.) Most days I pass the time between concerts by reading the newspaper, crocheting or planning the liturgical music programs for Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Belle Chase where I serve as Music Director. What are you most excited about? Being part of the Tricentennial Celebration, for sure. What makes it less cool? It gets awfully hot up on that roof deck in the summertime. What do most people not know about your job? When folks hear the calliope they’re often surprised to find out it’s a real instrument being played by a real person! It’s played on a keyboard, much the same as playing a church organ, except the sound comes from pressurized steam, not air. (Think of a whistling tea-pot.) What advice would you give someone who wants to do what you do? Be dedicated, love the river and try not to play the wrong notes – the calliope is very loud and the boo-boos will be heard far and near!
Entrepreneur-owner, Victory & New Orleans Drink Lab; Bartender
Age: 38 How would you describe what you do? There’s never a dull moment, and it’s full of creativity and making people happy. What makes your job “cool?” I get to meet people from all over the world; you never know who’s going to walk through the door. I get to “wow” people with what we do and offer them a cocktail experience they may not have otherwise had. What is the most fun part of your job? What I enjoy most is educating people on what they’re drinking, how it’s made and the history behind it. It makes me proud when I can teach someone something they may not be aware of; my hope is that they pass it on. What makes it less cool? The unexpected hiccups that happen on a day-to-day basis; for example, there could be an equipment failure, then you know it’s time to grab the wrenches. What are you most excited about? We just launched the latest series of Masterclasses at the Drink Lab that allow groups of friends to come in and learn about classic New Orleans cocktails; then they get behind the bar and make them. They shake, rattle and roll, and it’s exciting to give people information and skills they can use forever. What do most people not know about your job? You never stop learning; the business is always changing. There is always the challenge of “raising the bar” on how to do business, especially in a city with so many venues. Also, there’s a lot more education and creativity and behind what we do than most people think. What advice would you give someone who wants to do what you do? If you have four solutions for every opportunity that arises, then your overall outcome can be far better than what you expected. Be ready for challenges, because they’ll come when you least expect it. There’s no typical day for me and that’s what makes it so cool.
Aviculturist, Audubon Aquarium’s Husbandry Department
Age: 47 How would you describe what you do? I am responsible for all aspects of our penguin breeding program and coordinating it with other zoos and aquariums; developing and running our Backstage Penguin Pass premium experience program; and managing care for our penguin collection as well as all other birds at the aquarium, such as our raptors (hawks and owls), psittacines (macaws, Amazons, cockatoos and parakeets) and our free-flying Amazonian bird collection. What makes your job “cool?” Being able to share with and excite kids and adults about penguins and other birds, while educating them about penguin biology and their natural environment. What is the most fun part of your job? Sharing penguins with participants of our Backstage Penguin Pass and if, we’re raising penguin chicks, providing care. What makes it less cool? The drive to work – I commute from Boothville. What are you most excited about? Our ambitions for our breeding program with new pairs (fresh genetics) and to become a key player in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan breeding programs for both the African Blackfooted and Southern Rockhopper Penguin. We are also working on plans to significantly upgrade our current penguin exhibit and behind-the-scenes facilities to really advance as a state-of-the-art AZA penguin program for the first time in a quarter century. What do most people not know about your job? Fifteen of the world’s species of penguin live in temperate ice-free climates. Hopefully our new exhibit will be a tad chillier to accommodate Rockhopper Penguins, but no parka will be necessary! What advice would you give someone who wants to do what you do? I usually advise them to keep studying science and math; read research articles about birds you’re interested in; and most importantly, experience working with birds yourself. Be persistent.
Cole Antionette Williams
Owner, That’s My Worldwide LLC; Site Director, Community Works of New Orleans; Singer; Songwriter; Composer; Band Leader; Voice/Songwriting Teacher;
Documentary Producer/Interviewer, WWOZ Film
Age: 28 How would you describe what you do? My father encouraged me to become an entrepreneur and I ran with it. I compose/write my music, am band leader to Cole Williams Band, book shows, create media campaigns, solicit new opportunities and design artwork. I believe that if it’s in my power, I’m going to execute to the fullest extent. What makes your job “cool?” When you own your own business and write and produce your own music, you call all the shots. I’ve travelled to different countries and have had many life enhancing experiences. What is the most fun part of your job? There is so much work and planning that happens behind the scenes to make a show look effortless, or to have a successful release. When I’m on stage and the band plays together with love and precision, I’m able to express myself fully and make magic. What makes it less cool? I’ve been a professional for well over a decade, and sometimes I still have to “fight” for my rights as an industry professional and an innovator. Misogyny is real is this business, and I don’t feed the beast, as difficult as it is to work with and work around. What are you most excited about? I just released my fourth studio album, Sin City the Mixtape, on June 3, and I’m incredibly proud of it. It’s been my focus for the last four years – I composed, wrote, produced, performed, played, programmed, mixed and mastered the entire album myself. The music, the lyrics, the stories outline my life experiences as I grew into the woman I am now. What do most people not know about your job? I don’t think people realize how much work is involved, and how much focus, energy and faith it takes to be successful in the music industry. There is no such thing as an overnight success. What advice would you give someone who wants to do what you do? Have laser focus and work with diligence and discernment. Know who you are, what you want and your value, and demand nothing less.