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Our annual People to Watch

(page 2 of 2)

Eighteen-year-old visual artist Ariel Jackson describes New Orleans as “a great place to grow as an artist.”

Jackson, a graduate of Benjamin Franklin High School and a former student of the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, credits NOCCA for helping her talent blossom, “because the working artists that surrounded me inspired me.”

As an artist, Jackson has worked in photography, mixed media, graphics and drawing, but it’s her paintings that are perhaps most stunning. “Confidence” and “Parallel Relations,” for example, highlight qualities characteristic of Jackson’s work, such as use of bold colors and strong lines juxtaposed with blurred, dreamlike elements.

“I have never been good at explaining my ideas verbally,” she says, “so painting gives me the opportunity to clarify my ideas. Since I love talking philosophy, it’s important for me to express my theories and ideas in a way that can be easily understood.”

Of goals, Jackson says, “I would like to eventually establish some sort of art facility that could be open to the public. … I realize that there is so much talent but not enough drive and/or inspiration for the talented youth hidden by life’s troubles out there.”

As for the immediate future, Jackson has just started her first year of studies at New York City’s Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. “It is here that I hope to attain more skills to be able to give my future students the best of what I can offer them.”

Artistic Director “Trixie Minx” founded burlesque revue Fleur de Tease, a singing, dancing, joking spectacle comprising vaudeville, cabaret and burlesque styles with sparkly, custom costumes.

Minx says, “I absolutely love performing and producing shows. … Burlesque provides a unique fusion of dance, comedy and costume, where the audience becomes a part of the show.”

Minx’s fellow members each provide a unique performance element. Redheaded daredevil “Natasha Fiore” performs feats with fire. “I ran with the circus crowd for a while,” she says.

“Bella Blue,” a trained ballet dancer like Minx, jokes about joining the group (which happened via MySpace correspondence) in 2007, saying, “I traded point shoes for pasties!” She adds, “Stage has always been home for me. When I started dancing at the age of 3, it was apparent that this is where I belonged.”

“Lily Summers” says she chooses to perform “because I love to create art; I feel like being a member of Fleur de Tease allows me to exercise my creative muscles on a daily basis.”

“Madame Mystere,” also a life-long dancer, says, “Bottom line, I love to dance. I’ve been dancing since I was a kid, so being able to perform on stage in front of an audience on a regular basis is great.”

Fleur de Tease’s two-show season premiere will be Sunday, Sept. 13 at One Eyed Jacks  (call 319-8917 for tickets). You can also catch the ladies at the Voodoo Music Experience in October.

Artist Laurel Porcari of LA Porcari, LLC says, “I am an artist, and I design and fabricate kiln-formed art glass for architectural settings (and make some art for no reason at all).”

Porcari, a founding member of the New Orleans Creative Glass Institute, was a member of the design faculty at Tulane University’s School of Architecture when she chose to leave behind architecture and design to focus solely on NOCGI and her artistry.

She says of her current profession, “I can’t call it a job because it’s so cool.

“When the opportunity presented itself to study art full-time and concentrate on glass, a material that fascinates many architects, I jumped,” she says. “I was always interested in ambiguous relationships between materials, and glass manifests those ambiguities. Glass is liquid, but solid; it occupies space, but can remain transparent; it is fragile, yet incredibly strong and lasting.

“[Glass is] also a great material metaphor for the things that interest me and show up in my work: water vapor, weather patterns and geographical flows,” Porcari says.

She hopes in the long term “to put beautiful and fun art glass in buildings around the world.”

She also plans to teach classes at NOCGI and continue to work on her product line. “I have a couple of big projects on the horizon and may have to expand again!”
Porcari’s most recent public installation can be seen on the sixth floor of Children’s Hospital in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit.

Gary Solomon Jr., Solomon Group president and executive producer, has made it his – and his staff’s – personal mission to save Le Petit Thèâtre du Vieux Carré.

“Live theater has always been my passion,” says Solomon, Le Petit’s “youngest board member ever.”

At present, Solomon is looking forward to Le Petit’s 94th season, featuring plays including Aida, Damn Yankees and The Wedding Singer, as his company works to execute a project with the World War II Museum. The Stage Door Canteen show, Solomon says, will be a recreation of the type of shows that would have entertained the troops at the time.

Of his profession, he says, “I chose the field of producing live entertainment because no two days at work are ever the same.”

In the longterm, Solomon says, “I aim to develop the already established community for theater in Louisiana, and to build on that foundation to create an industry … that has the potential to be as rapidly booming as our film industry in Louisiana.”

Solomon says he draws inspiration from his grandfather, T.G. Solomon. “At the height of the Great Depression, his father dared to open a small movie theater. My grandfather then parlayed that small theater into a national chain and is a pioneer of the movie exhibition industry … If not for him, the film industry in Louisiana … would not exist. I strive to accomplish the same with the industry of theater.”

Roosevelt Hotel general manager Tod Chambers says his most important duty is to “be sure our team of professionals has the tools they need to be successful.”

Chambers, whose prior position was as general manager of the Doubletree Hotel New Orleans, has had a long career with the Hilton family of hotels.

In 1992, Chambers took his first Hilton position in Florida, working as director of sales and marketing for the Hilton Tampa. In 2000, while serving the same position with the Doubletree Hotel in Pittsburgh, Pa., Chambers was promoted to the position of assistant general manager. In 2005, he served a key role in revitalizing the Hilton New Orleans Riverside.

Now as general manager of the 504-room Roosevelt, Chambers takes on his biggest challenge yet. The building, which prior to Hurricane Katrina was known as the Fairmont Hotel, had been closed since the hurricane,  reopened only this summer, reclaiming its pre-Fairmont name of “Roosevelt” after undergoing $145 million in renovations. As general manager, it’s Chambers’ job to oversee all the day-to-day operations at the hotel.

Amongst the Roosevelt’s new features, Chambers says he’s excited to see the addition of Domenica, the newest restaurant by local culinary hero John Besh, which will feature rustic Italian cuisine. Other new-and-improved facilities include the Guerlain Spa, the Sazerac Restaurant and Sazerac Bar, and the storied Blue Room.

 “This is a ‘career hotel’,” Chambers says of the Roosevelt. “This is my last stop.”

LSU Health Sciences Center associate professor of Microbiology-Immunology Dr. Ashok Aiyar is researching human cancers and sharing a hilariously candid rapport with his medical and graduate students.

“I’ve always felt that I have been lucky to have a career that combines education and research,” he says. “It is very rewarding to watch the students we teach and mentor proceed to productive careers in professions that augment human health and welfare, such as medicine and biomedical science.

“While biomedical research has its share of frustration and tedium,” Aiyar says, “others and I are motivated by our shared desire to contribute to the fight against human diseases. In addition, there are a few fleeting moments where every experiment fits in place that renews this desire.”

Aiyar’s professional goal for the last 10 years is also his long-term goal, to investigate “the mechanism by which infectious agents can cause cancer, and thereby develop therapies to ameliorate disease.

“The team of scientists who work with me at LSUHSC have contributed very significantly to achieving this goal over the last year. Through our efforts, we have identified two promising therapies against cancers caused by Epstein-Barr virus.”

Aiyar says he looks forward to upcoming research partnerships with doctors at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine and the Research Institute at Children’s Hospital.

“Through these collaborations we intend to test therapeutics we have developed in the laboratory in animal models for cancers caused by Epstein-Barr virus,” Aiyar says. “These studies will take us one step closer toward our goals of alleviating human cancers caused by this virus.”

Windsor Court Hotel General Manager David Teich arrived to our fair city just last year – eight days before the arrival of Hurricane Gustav. Bad luck? No, a smiling Teich says, “it was a great teambuilding experience.”

Teich’s previous position was as food and beverage director of Charleston Place. Before being hired by Orient-Express Hotels, Teich held management roles at Hyatt and Holiday Inn hotels.

“I choose to work in this field because I love the people,” he says. “I love the associates at the Windsor Court. They are a fantastic group of people and work very hard to make the hotel great.”

Like many, Teich has felt the burden of the current recession. “I am responsible for [hotel associates’] families’ livelihood, so I’ve tried to keep business as steady as possible to avoid work slowdowns and layoffs.

“In the coming year I am looking forward to leading the Windsor Court Hotel to new heights. I know everyone would probably say that about their respective businesses but I really mean it,” he says. “We have a very strong and close staff at the hotel and we are going to have to display great teamwork in 2010 to accomplish our goals.”

As for much longer-term goals, Teich’s wish is simply to retire, healthy and financially secure. “Even when I retire I still could not sit around the house,” he says. “I’d like to drive for a transportation company so I can continue to interact with people.”

“Worn in New Orleans, Grazed in Philadelphia” sums up the journey of Chris Watson’s label Park the Van Records. President and founder Watson had just started the label in New Orleans at the end of 2004 when not long after Hurricane Katrina hit, and Watson relocated to Pennsylvania. Once in Philadelphia, Watson began to appreciate the local music scene, especially the band Dr. Dog.

The label subsequently flourished with Philadelphia artists through 2008, when Watson decided it was time for Park the Van to move back home to New Orleans.

Now with offices in New Orleans and Los Angeles, the label features artists including The Peekers, Floating Action, The High Strung and rising New Orleans stars The Generationals, whom Watson describes as “a breakout success.”

“I work for the art and artists that I adore, and am lucky enough to make a livelihood dedicating my time towards that, not to mention travel and human experiences beyond my expectations,” Watson says.

In his industry, Watson faces unique challenges in the face of ever-changing technology. He says, “The death of the CD is near and Park the Van [has] to stay in this business. It’s an ongoing affair, so we’re still trying!

Manufacturing less product and releasing more digital-only … titles is part of the solution. Making new fans is another huge part,” he says.

Watson says he’s most inspired by “anyone who geeks out with headphones on, no matter what they are listening to. People who sing in the shower. Anyone who owns a four-track. Keep listening.”

Kertrina Watson Lewis, executive director of New Orleans service organization HandsOn, says, “I choose to work in the nonprofit field because it allow me the opportunity to do what I love daily – help people.”

With her job, outreach coordinator for Brad Pitt’s Make it Right Foundation, Lewis acted as the organization’s 9th Ward liaison, planning and conducting information sessions while developing overall outreach efforts.

Now, as executive director of HandsOn New Orleans, Lewis’ responsibilities will include fund development, marketing and public relations. 

“I’d like to grow as a professional while at [HandsOn]. To achieve that growth, I intend to pursue professional development and mentoring opportunities available through organizations such as 504ward, the Young Leadership Council and more,” she says. “I’d also like to encourage more New Orleanians to take an active role in volunteering. To accomplish this, I plan to develop more local partnerships.

“In the coming year,” Lewis says, “I’m looking forward to bringing more attention to the HandsOn New Orleans brand and … the work we’re doing in the community.”

Lewis names her mother, who died of cancer last year, as one of the greatest sources of inspiration in her life. “She always encouraged me to strive for excellence in everything I set out to do.”

She says her siblings, too, have inspired her achievements. “I’ve always wanted to be a great role model for them, my pastors and New Orleans residents who decided to return to New Orleans after losing everything.” 

Miranda Lash joined the New Orleans Museum of Art as curator of modern and contemporary art last January, toting impressive credentials including a Harvard degree and two years of experience at the Menil Collection in Houston.

“Museums inspire me as sacred spaces where anyone can have a direct, unique experience with an original work of art,” Lasy says. “Even as the role and responsibilities of museums change, I see that as an exciting part of the process.”

As curator of modern and contemporary art, Lash says, her goal is to bring “the best and most progressive art to New Orleans,” and she’s already hard at work.

“I work on contemporary art exhibitions that not only display strong art, but also challenge conventions in one way or another,” she says.

One such show, “Skylar Fein: Youth Manifesto,” hits NOMA Sept. 12. The show, Lash says, “will be a high-energy suite of new work, which tackles the pervasive power and symbiotic relationship between rock music and consumerism.”

In January, NOMA will feature New Orleans musician Quintron and performance artist Miss Pussycat. Lash says, “The show will display the artistic range of Miss Pussycat’s incredible puppets and Quintron will ‘clock in’ regularly at the museum to record music in the gallery.”

Lash says, “The opportunity to give artists a forum through exhibitions is one of the most gratifying experiences in my life.”

In addition to progressive art, Lash enjoys video art and oil painting. Her other love is her husband Jim Mulvihill, NOMA’s director of communications.

When Russell Miller, general manager of the Ritz-Carlton Hotels of New Orleans, accepted his position in April of 2009, he took on the task of overseeing three hotels, a spa, a restaurant, two lounges and more than 600 hotel employees. The New Orleans hotels comprise 757 rooms, making the Ritz-Carlton Hotels of New Orleans one of the largest Ritz-Carlton properties in the U.S.

Miller is well prepared for his new responsibilities. He brings to his new post a bachelor’s degree in Hotel Administration from Cornell University, as well as years of professional experience in the hotel industry. He started his professional hotel career in 1979, when he was hired as restaurant manager for the Newport Beach, Calif., Marriott hotel.

He returned to his native Bahamas for a period beginning in the late 1980s. In 1996, Miller joined the Atlantis organization, serving as senior vice president and general manager of the Harborside Resort on Paradise Island. Adding to his lengthy resume, Miller has also served as general manager of the One & Only Ocean Club in Nassau, Bahamas. Miller says that now that he’s in New Orleans he’s “never had so many friends come to visit.”

Miller says his father has been his greatest inspiration: “He achieved a lot from humble beginnings.”

Miller lives in Lakeview, in a Caribbean-style house, with his wife, Linda, with whom he has two children (he also has a new grandchild). Of lifetime goals, Miller says eventually he would like to return to the Bahamas and open his own luxury hotel.

New Orleans’ booming film industry has been the talk of the town lately, and Jason Sciavicco’s Horizon Entertainment has been at the center of the gossip since they moved to the city in July.

“One of our primary reasons for moving our company from Atlanta to New Orleans was to increase the amount of work and projects brought into the state of Louisiana,” says CEO and executive producer Sciavicco, noting that last year the company helped bring more than $85 million of production work to south Louisiana.

“Moves are always difficult, but it was without question the right decision for our company,” says Sciavicco. “We took our time and have really settled in here. We managed to get ourselves on track, are headeing in the right direction and are currently progressing full-speed ahead.”

Company projects include the “Coach Payton Show” featuring Saints coach Sean Payton, film production of Voodoo, Essence and other festivals, as well as film projects. (The director’s chair featured in his photo here is from the upcoming film Father of Invention starring Kevin Spacey.)

“I’m really looking forward to this upcoming year,” Sciavicco says. “We have quite a few projects in the works and should be very busy in the next few months. I am also looking forward to producing some larger-scale productions here in Louisiana in the upcoming year.”

Sciavicco says, “I choose to work in the entertainment industry because there is no other field I find as exciting or engaging. Creating quality television shows and films has always been my passion.”

Dr. Ken Muneoka, a Tulane University professor of cell and molecular biology, has worked in the field of limb regeneration for more than 30 years. Also an endowed John L. and Mary Wright Ebaugh Chair in Science and Engineering, Muneoka explains his work best.

“My fascination in regeneration began with observing a salamander limb regenerate after it was amputated. The phenomenon was, and still is, so amazing that you can’t help but wonder why mammals, and humans in particular, lack a similar ability,” Muneoka begins. “It is easy to imagine how medicine would change if we could harness such regenerative ability.

“Soon after, I transitioned from studying salamander limb regeneration to focus my research on understanding why mammals cannot regenerate; that is, what is missing that prevents us from regenerating,” he explains. “I chose to work in this field because I am convinced that the problem of regeneration in mammals, such as humans, can be solved.”

Muneoka says, “Because the problem is so complex, it is important to have a clearly focused plan that you can take stepwise to this goal.” 

This past year Muneoka received two hefty research grants for his work. One grant came from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, “to continue our studies on digit regeneration using our mouse model,” and one came from the Department of the Army, “to establish a genetic blueprint of limb regeneration,” he says.

Despite all of his scientific achievements, Muneoka says, “My greatest accomplishment is my children.” 

Delgado Community College Chancellor Dr. Ron Wright arrived at his current position with more than 30 years of professional experience with community colleges.

After approval by the board of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, Wright was appointed as the seventh Delgado chancellor in 2008, replacing Dr. Alex Johnson.

As to how he came to take his current position, the witty chancellor says, “They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

Wright’s accomplished career in education starts with his own long list of educational milestones. Wright holds numerous degrees, including an associate’s degree from Northeastern Christian Junior College; a bachelor’s degree from Pepperdine University; a master’s degree from Antioch University; and finally a Cornell University Ph.D. in policy analysis and management.

Equally impressive is Wright’s career history, full of leadership positions at colleges across the U.S. Prior to his Delgado position, Wright was president of the Cincinnati State Technical and Community College in Cincinnati, Ohio for 10 years. Wright’s additional work experience includes a decade as vice president of academic and student affairs at the Community College of Baltimore, Md.

Wright jokes that his ultimate goal is, “to retire without living in poverty.” A native Pennsylvanian, Wright enjoys playing racquetball in his spare time but blames recent poor athletic performances on the weather in New Orleans. “It must be this Louisiana air,” he says. “My game’s been off since I got here.”

Incidentally, Wright was also very excited to learn that Philadelphia-made Amoroso’s rolls and Tastykakes snack cakes are available in New Orleans.

Being a Saintsation is hard work! Especially when you’re also a student, a career-woman or both, like sophomore squad member Amanda Thompson, five-year veteran Chrissy Hamilton and rookie Jennifer Hanna.

Thompson, from Brandon, Miss., is pursuing a career in performing arts and says she’s currently writing a screenplay and, “learning from all my experiences on and off the stage.”

Thompson, Hamilton and Hanna all express similar sentiments, as Thompson says, “the best part about being a Saintsation is that I get to be an ambassador for the Saints, the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana. I get to meet people from all over the world, from all walks of life, and share with them what it means to be a New Orleanian.”

Hamilton, who was asked to rejoin the squad in spite of the team’s established four-year limit, is from Chalmette and is currently pursuing a pharmacological studies major at Xavier University. Hamilton says, “I enjoy working with others to enrich the community in which we live. I feel as though I accomplish this through both my ongoing pharmacy education and volunteer [and] charity work as a New Orleans Saintsation.”

Newcomer Hanna, from Slidell, has a background in graphic design and is a director of marketing and public relations representing McDonald’s restaurants. Of her new role as a Saintsation, she says it’s been “intense,” but “it’s been a great experience being an NFL Cheerleader for the New Orleans Saints. I’m really looking forward to cheering them on this year from the sidelines!”


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