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Page Turners

People to Watch 2010

(page 4 of 4)

Msgr. Christopher H. Nalty
Pastor, Good Shepherd Parish; Seminary Teacher; and Archdiocese Judge

Monsignor Christopher Nalty believes that he did not choose his profession, but that his profession found him.

“Jesus once told His disciples, ‘it is not you who have chosen me, but I have chosen you.’ That’s how a vocation to the priesthood happens,” he says. “I don’t why God chose me, but I do know that becoming a priest wasn’t initially part of my ‘career plans.’”

Nalty spent six years practicing law before having second thoughts. “With all due respect to my lawyer buddies, I guess six years practicing law can make anyone question his vocation! It was after a long period of discernment and prayer (that) I decided to give it a shot in seminary.”

Before coming to New Orleans to serve as pastor of Good Shepherd Parish, the combined parish after the closure of St. Henry and Our Lady of Good Counsel parishes, Nalty served for five years as an official of the Roman Curia in the Congregation for the Clergy in the Vatican. He also served as chaplain to the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa’s order, and taught Apologetics at the Rome campus of Christendom College.

While Nalty feels that he’s achieved his long-term goal of becoming a pastor (“In 10 years, I hope to be doing the same thing that I’m doing now, with the same people being in a different stage of the cycle of Christian life.”), he says he strives daily to fulfill other goals. “I find my mission in the two greatest commandments: love of God and love of neighbor. Before I can preach those commandments, I have to follow them.”

Nannette V. Jolivette Brown
City Attorney, City of New Orleans

Many New Orleanians were excited about the election of Mayor Mitch Landrieu – the promises, the possibilities, the change. But few are aware of all the players behind the scenes who work with and advise the mayor, making his promises possible.

As the City Attorney for New Orleans, Nanette V. Jolivette Brown, directs and supervises the city’s legal affairs and provides Mayor Landrieu and his council with legal advice. The former partner at Chaffe, McCall, LLP, enjoys being directly involved with the people and with the administration. “My favorite thing about my job is the interaction I have with the citizens of New Orleans and the opportunity to work with the talented, yet selfless, staff that Mayor Landrieu has put in place,” she says. “I am grateful to serve in his administration as I have always known Mayor Landrieu to be a tireless and committed public servant.”

Brown says that the changes that needed to be made – including existing practices, litigation, contracts and business deals – were many when Landrieu took office. “I welcomed this challenge not as a hindrance, but as an opportunity to find innovative and creative ways to renegotiate and resolve these myriad issues,” she says.

She considers her greatest accomplishment to be balancing such professional responsibilities and pressures with a family and spiritual life, and is hopeful for the possibilities to come in New Orleans. “I am looking forward to being a part of the real institutional, sustainable change in city government and to earning the respect of the people of our city who have endured so much over the last five years.”

Susan Taylor
Director, New Orleans Museum of Art

With more than 20 years’ experience as a museum director, Susan Taylor is primed and prepared to take over the legacy of the New Orleans Museum of Art. As of Sept. 1, Taylor is the sixth director of NOMA in the museum’s 100-year history, and she says she couldn’t be happier.

“I am fortunate that my passion is also my profession,” says the former director of the Princeton University Art Museum. “The museum provides the opportunity to think about art in the context of culture and history – to look at history through the lens of art and look at art through the prism of the humanities. The museum is a cultural crossroads where art, history, music, literature and all aspects of the humanities meet. This broad perspective reveals as much about art as it does about a moment in history or a period of time.”

Taylor hopes to engage the museum with the history, culture and creativity of New Orleans by encouraging. “As the city’s oldest art institution, New Orleans Museum of Art should be a cornerstone and catalyst for the city’s vibrant arts community and the citizens-at-large,” she says. “Education and visual learning are just one way museums and other arts institutions can impact a community. NOMA is uniquely positioned for such efforts.”

The new director specifically looks forward to the museum’s upcoming landmark centennial celebration. “In 2011, NOMA will celebrate a century of art. It will be a year full of special events highlighting the extensive NOMA collections and commemorating the accomplishments of John Bullard who retires as one of America’s longest-serving museum directors. Two priorities for NOMA will be its focus: education and technology.”

Robbie Vitrano
Partner, Co-founder and Chief Brand Officer, NakedPizza; Chairman and Co-founder, Trumpet Ventures

Robbie Vitrano wants New Orleans to get naked – at least with its pizza. Vitrano, along with Jeff Leach and Randy Crochet, founded NakedPizza in 2009, utilizing a brand new business model that took advantage of social media in a way that many have tried to replicate.

NakedPizza was named to Entrepreneur Magazine’s “10 to Follow” and The New York Times’ “Top 10 Small Businesses in Social Media” due to its innovative use of and relationship with Twitter, including using the networking site for communication with customers and creation of sales. Most notably, NakedPizza is said to be the first company to use its billboard as a venue for advertising its Twitter.

NakedPizza also aims to change the way people eat, specifically in a venue that’s traditionally devoid of nutrition. Their pizza is made of prebiotic dough and probiotics for digestive health, bone health and weight management; its ingredients are all natural; and there are no trans fats and no butter, thanks to skim-milk mozzarella.

Vitrano’s biggest challenge in the past year has been “surfing a tsunami of opportunity particular to this post-recession, post-mass media business environment. There are entirely new expectations (and) opportunities around investment, entrepreneurship, business corporate responsibility, sustainability, health, technology, etc.”

Vitrano’s long-term business goal is “to help demonstrate, by example, that innovation applied within business can be profitable and have positive, transformative impact.”

And the best is yet to come. “NakedPizza is a company literally drowning in opportunity,” he says. “I’m curious and have a need to be useful and creative.” And his favorite part of his job? “It’s never boring.”

Robert X. Fogarty
Executive Director, Evacuteer.org; Founder, Dear New Orleans, LLC

Most people have written a love letter in their lives; but what about a love letter to a city? Robert Fogarty founded Dear New Orleans LLC, a for-profit event photography and creative studio, in 2010 to help fund one of his other creations, Evacuteer.org, a site geared toward hurricane preparedness and volunteer coordination for evacuation and re-entry. He developed Evacuteer.org after serving as former Mayor Ray Nagin’s volunteer coordinator in 2007. He also has a third enterprise, Dear World, LLC, founded in July 2010.

Dear New Orleans gives people the opportunity to write a love note to New Orleans on a less-than-traditional medium: their bodies. Hundreds of subjects, including Mayor Mitch Landrieu (“One team, one fight… One voice, one city”), Dr. John (“Chew my drawers, BP”) and Susan Sarandon (“Stay strong; we are with you”), have written their sentiments for the city on their hands to be photographed.

“While everyone else is sleeping, I’m sure I’m not the only one scribbling blurry-eyed, first iterations of a better, wonderful world,” Fogarty says. “Many of the people I’ve met who feel the same way I now consider friends. This is my favorite thing about entrepreneurship. It’s no fun (when) you’re on the ride alone.”

Fogarty enjoys juggling his many endeavors, but his greatest accomplishment is creating “a safer, stronger and more engaged city in terms of emergency preparedness with Evacuteer.org.”

More than anything, though, he strives to keep improving. “I want to do better today than I did yesterday.”

Sonia Perez
President, AT&T Louisiana

Sonia Perez was named President of AT&T Louisiana in March of this year, an accomplishment that she says is both rewarding and challenging. “Doesn’t everyone want to work in a position where you combine community activism and engagement with the unlimited possibilities of technology?” she says. “I am very lucky, and I am also grateful.”

Perez’s main goals as newly appointed president include bringing the state into a competitive standing both regionally and globally. “I can do my part by working to ensure the climate in our state encourages competition and continued investment in enhanced broadband infrastructure,” she says. “The more we can facilitate the ability of Louisianians to use the Internet everywhere they live, work or play, the more all our lives will be improved.”

Perez and AT&T’s motto is “Re-Think Possible,” a notion she says comes to fruition through marrying technology and communication. “I am able to make a difference in the lives of Louisianians by working to give them access to competitive, advanced products and services that connect them to their workplaces, friends and neighbors and improve their lives.” Such technologies include U-verse® TV, mobile broadband and new applications and products, including phones and networks.

Perez finds satisfaction in both her personal and professional achievements.  “My greatest personal accomplishment is raising three great children with a wonderfully supportive husband,” she says. “Professionally, my greatest achievement is working in a leadership position for a Fortune 7 company that values the contribution I make to provide AT&T customers the products and services they demand.”

Tess Monaghan
Executive Director, Build Now Foundation

With the recent five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, many may have forgotten the impact on so many families in New Orleans. Tess Monaghan and the Build Now Foundation, however, have not. Monaghan, executive director of Build Now, has helped build nearly 20 energy-efficient homes for families whose houses were destroyed by Katrina. “We are proud of the quality and design of our homes,” says Monaghan, “and many of our families would not be able to rebuild and move back into their neighborhoods without our assistance.”

Build Now services pre-Katrina homeowners by helping them cut through bureaucratic red tape and find financing through government programs and private funding. The homes created by Monaghan and Build Now are meant to reflect classic New Orleans architecture, with nine-foot ceilings and deep front porches, so that rebuilding doesn’t necessarily mean a loss of architectural history or identity.

Monaghan was working in New York City at a management-consulting firm when her New Orleanian father founded Build Now. “I was ready for a change – personally and professionally – and jumped at the opportunity to move to New Orleans and take the reins at Build Now. (I was excited) to move from the corporate world into the non-profit sector.”

She says Build Now is continuing to work toward its goal. “While New Orleans has made great strides over the past five years, we have a long way to go – especially in flooded residential neighborhoods. It is an honor to be part of New Orleans’ recovery and to have the opportunity to fight to shape the city’s future.”

While Monaghan feels she has a long way to go in terms of recovery for the city, she enjoys looking at the progress thus far. “My favorite thing about what I do is that every day I see the tangible impact of our work,” she says.

“Many of our families would not be able to rebuild and move back into their neighborhoods without our assistance.”

Tim Bryant
President, Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots

Tim Bryant was the Vice President of Operations and Finance at Harrah’s New Orleans Hotel & Casino when he realized he was ready for something different, something new. He then accepted a position as President of the Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. “We sometimes become comfortable with where we are at and the company that we work for,” he says. “If I did not have the courage to at least consider the possibility of a change, I would not have been afforded the opportunity at the Fair Grounds.”

Bryant especially enjoys the team he works with at the Fair Grounds. “It gives me a lot of satisfaction providing support and direction to the team in order to accomplish our property’s goals and their personal goals,” he says. His greatest feeling of accomplishment comes not from success in business, but success with people. “Several people have told me that I have left an impression upon them that has helped grow their career in each of my management roles,” he says. “I hope that this trend continues as it truly brings me an abundance of satisfaction.”

He also thrives on the challenges of leading the Fair Grounds in its present and future endeavors. “I love the strategy that is required to run a complex business … I really do feel that the Fair Grounds has a great racing season to look forward to along with some great night racing experiences.

Tom Piazza
Novelist; Non-fiction Author; Writer, HBO’s “Treme”

Tom Piazza has an undeniable passion for this city. From his writing to his personal life, Piazza expresses the struggles and virtues of New Orleans. His novel City of Refuge, which won the Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction, follows two fictional families in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He’s published other works about the city, including the short non-fiction piece “Why New Orleans Matters.” His fervor for the city extends beyond his career, however. When asked what his biggest challenge was this year, he said it was “resisting the desire to fly to BP headquarters and punch out their chairman, Tony Hayward.”

But his most recent expression of his feelings for the city is his role as a writer for the HBO series “Treme,” a job that, along with writing his new novel, is both challenging and satisfying. “I’m happiest when I can work every day on a novel, so I’m looking forward to the periods when I can do that,” Piazza says. “I also can’t wait to get back to the “Treme” writers’ room and help shape and write this upcoming second season.”

For Piazza, a love of writing is enhanced by, and maybe even born from, the challenge. “I think most writers, myself included, write for many different reasons. Writing is the most challenging thing I know how to do. When it goes well, it is also the most satisfying.

Piazza has no plans of slowing down any time soon. In addition to new novels and work with “Treme,” he’s releasing a collection of nonfiction writing next year called Devil Sent the Rain. “My long-term goal is to last, as a writer, and to write well up until the end.”

Virginia T. McCollam
Filmmaker, location Manager and Scout, HBO’s “Treme”

Location, location, location. This mantra is especially true for Virginia McCollam, who served as location manager and scout for HBO’s “Treme.” McCollam’s film experience is vast – from writing (“I love language and I love ‘our’ language.”), to directing (“I love constructing space in moving images.”), to producing (“I love bringing minds together to create.”) to scouting locations, she’s becoming a Renaissance woman of the movies.

“When I find an incredible building in New Orleans or in south Louisiana that I haven’t seen before and get to use it on…that’s great,” she says. “With ‘Treme,’ I loved what the writers and producers had to say and I loved the way they were looking at the city – they were looking at it as I always had.” McCollam knew she couldn’t pass on an opportunity to give her city a voice. “If at last someone really wanted to see, hear and feel New Orleans, the New Orleans that a lot of us know, I was going to sink them in deep.”

While McCollam’s skills will be put back to work for Season Two of “Treme,” she continues to pursue other areas of film. “I’d like to spend more time writing and directing,” she says.

Ultimately, though, she wants to do it for New Orleans. “I have hope for this city and I have found new hope in people and the endless possibilities of what people can do and achieve together,” she says. “The act doesn’t have to be earth shattering or award winning – that’s more about you – what it has to be, in my new opinion, is to be done completely, done whole heartedly and done with heart. We have a lot of heart in this town, in this part of the world, and I like to lend more of mine to the effort.”

Michele Baker, Libby Bryan and Keith Porteous
Owners, Swan River Yoga

The first time Michele Baker practiced yoga, in 1996, she says she felt complete. “It inspired me to want to be of service in my community in providing creative, diverse ways to interact socially and artfully,” she says. She was the first to bring a style of yoga called Jivamukti – a modern style of yoga that incorporates breath-synchronized movement with yogic philosophy – to New Orleans. She then founded Swan River Yoga in 1998 and now has two partners, Keith Porteous and Libby Bryant, and three locations, including the latest in Mid-City.

Porteous decided she wanted to pursue yoga as a career after experiencing what Buddhists call “renunciation” after Hurricane Katrina and the death of her father. “Renunciation is like a wake-up call in which you realize that the things you’ve been looking to for happiness and the things you see as ‘permanent’ in your life are not what you thought they were at all,” she says.  Yoga, specifically Swan River, was the answer to her crisis. “As a teacher, my greatest satisfaction comes when I see students find answers to their problems, whether mental or physical, on their own through the practice,” says Porteous, who has studied with the Dalai Lama.

Bryan discovered Jivamukti yoga in New Orleans before relocating to Austria to teach it. “I teach yoga because I love sharing what I have learned and witnessing the growth in confidence, strength, empowerment and compassion in others,” Bryan says, adding that she finds the practice of teaching invaluable. “My yoga practice helped me through some of the most challenging times in my own life and has become a constant source of stability and happiness within.” She returned to New Orleans in November 2007 and immediately got involved in Swan River.

“My long-term goal is to inspire New Orleans and the entire Gulf Region, from Texas to Florida, to be a thriving medicinal Mecca of natural self-rule by honoring the health of our bodies, minds and hearts,” says Baker. “This will raise the bar of standards we give ourselves to our quality of living both with our bodies, relationships, homes, neighborhoods and our Gulf environment.”


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