Our 2013 Class of People to Watch

We're expecting big things from these 41 New Orleanians.
CJ Hunt and Kyle June Williams |!!!|

There is so much energy in New Orleans these days with new people doing new things that keeping up with them all could be a full time obsession. By comparison, our method is modest but sincere as we present a sample of the newly notables. We define “People to Watch” as mostly new faces who are doing something interesting with their lives that’s worthy of your awareness, or in some cases, familiar faces moving in different directions. As always, we concede that there are many other watch-worthy people out there. We are interested in them all, and we’ll keep an eye open.

Christine Alexis

Owner, Culture Shock, LLC

After Christine Alexis graduated from Loyola University, she noticed the job market wasn’t too great. Instead, she decided to start a business inspired by the gifts she had obtained from her travels abroad. Culture Shock, LLC, was born; now it’s an online store where women can find special pieces from around the world.

Culture Shock sells jewelry, clothing and accessories from countries Alexis has visited and where she’s made contacts, but it also features ethnic-inspired jewelry Alexis has designed herself. She has plans to grow her business online, and would like to see her pieces in department stores. In the near future, she’s looking forward to the launch of the Naturally Creole line of Culture Shock and she’ll be traveling to Costa Rica and Morocco.  

“I’ve been very fortunate to travel and learn about other cultures and ways of life,” she says. “Everyday I try to expose my customers to other cultures and educate them about the importance of cultural acceptance. I whole-heartedly believe that when somebody learns about and accepts other cultures, they’ll truly begin to appreciate their own.”

While her biggest challenge is competing with larger companies that have invested a lot more money than she has, Alexis considers having the courage to start her own business her greatest accomplishment. “I was at home one day analyzing the pros and the cons of starting my own business, and I realized that the biggest factor that outweighed all the others was regret,” she says. “I would rather start a business and fail than to not even try.”

– H.A.

Brian Bordainick and Francisco “Paco” Robert

Chief Executive Officer, and Chief Culinary Officer, Dinner Lab

New Orleans has recently become enamored with pop-up restaurants, but Dinner Lab takes that trend to a new level: How about dining in a deconsecrated curch?

Dinner Lab is the brainchild of Brian Bordainick, a social entrepreneur who has appeared on the Forbes “30 Under 30” list, and Francisco “Paco” Robert, a business and culinary school grad who has worked as a sous chef and as a restaurant consultant. The membership-based concept stages one-night-only meals in interesting spaces – that aren’t revealed to diners until the day of the event – featuring a menu of global cuisine prepared by an up-and-coming chef.

With Dinner Lab’s global focus, Bordainick and Robert hope to expand New Orleans’ culinary offerings.

“Part of the original concept evolved out of the idea of bringing more diversity to the food scene in New Orleans,” Robert says. “Yet, we still live in a melting pot with young chefs from all over the world working in our kitchens.”

That is another focus of Dinner Lab: to give the sous chefs, sauciers, line cooks and chefs de cuisine toiling in the kitchens of New Orleans’ “brand name” chefs a chance to shine.

As a bonus, Dinner Lab – which has since expanded to Nashville and Austin – brings together a variety of people who share a love of food and drink.

 “We are part of the fortunate few that get to make their living on bringing together people over food and wine,” Bordainick says. “Doesn’t get much better than that.”

– L.L.

Kim Cook

President and CEO, Arts Council of New Orleans

Kim Cook is the newly appointed president and CEO of the Arts Council of New Orleans. Her current energies lie in creating platforms for local artists to be recognized on a national and international stage, and engaging the city’s youth in the design of civic projects that positively impact their neighborhoods and cultivate their individual skills. Through spreading awareness and support for art and culture as instrumental factors in making a city functional, Cook aims to “elevate an understanding of how art and culture intersect with all aspects of a healthy community.” She cites her biggest personal accomplishment to date as being able to connect choreographer Bill “Crutchmaster” Shannon to Cirque du Soleil, effectively launching his career with the internationally renowned French-Canadian circus. Cook’s background will be invaluable in navigating the many cultural nuances of the city and in creating long-lasting ties with its community.

Cook was selected as a Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Fellow. She was also an employee of the Nonprofit Finance Fund where she worked with more than 100 nonprofit cultural organizations to re-structure and balance their business models. So what’s in store for this determined new president? For now, she aims to settle into New Orleans and get to know the city she will soon greatly impact.

– N.T.

Bruce Spizer

Lawyer and Beatles author/historian

Bruce Spizer maintains two careers: a lawyer and a Beatles author and historian – or as he puts it, “a ‘taxman’ by day and ‘paperback writer’ by night.” He has written nine books on the Fab Four, and with the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ arrival in America coming up in February 2014, he’s going to be a busy man.

While Spizer has been running his own law practice since 1984, he’s been a Beatles fan since he was a kid. “I became a Beatles fan from the moment I first heard ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ on the Newman school bus radio back in January ’64,” he says.

For the 50th anniversary, Spizer will be in New York presenting at the Fest for Beatles Fans, speaking at a Beatles exhibit opening sponsored by the Grammy museum and making national television appearances. He is also working on plans to celebrate the anniversary of the Beatles’ New Orleans concert, which took place Sept. 16, 1964.

While you might think the life of a lawyer would be very different from the life of a Beatles expert, Spizer has found similarities between the two. “I decided to become a lawyer because I enjoy solving problems, assisting others and settling disputes,” he says. “I approach research and writing Beatles books the same way I prepare for a lawsuit, starting with the discovery process of reviewing documents and interviewing people, and then putting it all together in a clear and convincing matter that’s easy to read and follow.”

– H.A.

Ashlee Arceneaux

Owner and Artist, Smallchalk

If you’ve visited a hip coffee shop or eatery around town, chances are you’ve noticed chalkboards that go beyond mere listings of menu items. That is the work of artist Ashlee Arceneaux, owner of Smallchalk, whose flourishes and charming illustrations can bring life to even the most basic list of coffee drinks.

Smallchalk provides custom chalk signage for: clients; individuals needing signage for weddings and other events; and even ESPN, who commissioned custom chalkboards to be shown on “Sunday NFL Countdown.”

During a string of bar and restaurant jobs, Arceneaux realized she had a knack for creating interesting chalk signs at these places. After a friend opened a restaurant and asked her to draw his menu on a wall painted with chalk paint, she began to get noticed for her work and was able to foray that talent into a business.

In addition, Arceneaux is the store artist at the Metairie Whole Foods Market, often working 50- to 60-hour weeks. She is also working with a local carpenter to design a line of hand-constructed chalkboards, easels and table-top chalkboards that will be available for purchase or rent, offering boards and designs as a package.

“My favorite thing about what I do is the fact that every day and every project is different. I’ve gotten a chance to work with a variety of clients on a variety of commissions,” Arceneaux says. “It also feels really great to create big, bold pieces of art that get looked at every day by lots of people.”

– L.L.

Allan A. Pizzato

President and General Manager, WYES-TV and YES Productions

Allan A. Pizzato was a freshman in high school when he first realized his admiration for the world of television. “I fell in love with the technology of television, even more so than the impact it could have on people,” he says. Now as the new president and general manager at WYES-TV and YES Productions, Pizzato is impacting the New Orleans area with the power of the small screen.

Previously the executive director of Alabama Public Television, Pizzato started at WYES Jan. 7, 2013. “I have been focused on taking WYES, an already vibrant and important part of the New Orleans community, and moving from being an excellent educational public television station to being an educational multimedia resource to the New Orleans community and region,” he says.

One of the highlights coming up for WYES is the coverage of New Orleans’ upcoming tricentennial. WYES is currently working on an in-depth documentary, a coffee table book, web content and more to celebrate the milestone. “WYES is our storyteller, preserving our history through the creation of award-winning documentaries,” he says. “We are working to increase our capacity to tell great stories about our wonderful, unique region.”

Pizzato is also looking forward to the results of a partnership with the National World War II Museum to create educational content for schools; he’s also excited about the planning and building of “phase 2” of WYES’ new building which will, Pizzato says, “allow us to interact more with the community and expand our production capacity.” 

– H.A.

Melissa Beese

Founder and Owner, Little Pnuts

In June 2012, a former senior account executive at a major advertising agency, Melissa Beese, launched Little Pnuts, a sustainable, eco-friendly, organic toy company for children. Little Pnuts was created following the challenges she faced as the mother of a premature baby. When her oldest son, Tristan, was born at 24 weeks, he was labeled a “micro-preemie” and was faced with daily therapy for the first three years of his life. When her second son, Finn, was also born premature at 34 weeks, Beese was only further inspired to build a brand based on healthy, natural ways of creating playtime.

Identifying a need for natural, handmade educational toys, Beese founded Little Pnuts, which operates on a subscription system, sending special deliveries to doorsteps every quarter. “I actually didn’t choose what I do; my career chose me. Through the experiences and challenges of raising a micro-preemie, Little Pnuts was inspired,” Beese says. “I wanted to help other parents find the best toys world wide to provide their Little Pnuts the optimal tools to enhance learning through play.”

Today, both of Beese’s sons are strong and healthy, continually inspiring Beese to grow her business and help children everywhere. Little Pnuts has plans to expand and has garnered national attention from parents with similar needs. “I never dreamt that I would own an amazing toy company that brings joy and laughter to children worldwide, and yet,” Beese says, “through the birth of Tristan and all the challenges we faced … he inspired a dream come true.”

– S.D.

Lee Hamm, M.D.

Senior Vice President and Dean, Tulane University School of Medicine

After wearing many hats at Tulane University’s Medical School, Dr. Lee Hamm has found the one that fits him best. As of July, the former professor of medicine and physiology, Nephrology and Hypertension Department Chief, Interim Vice Dean, and most recently, Executive Vice Dean, Hamm is the Senior Vice President and Dean of Tulane’s School of Medicine. In his new position, the University of Alabama at Birmingham Medical School graduate aims to “Help make Tulane’s School of Medicine the best possible,” and to “Focus on our central missions of education, research and clinical care.” These goals aren’t surprising coming from a man who, despite his lengthy list of prestigious medical accolades, cites his biggest accomplishment as “helping with Tulane’s renaissance after Katrina.” Hamm, who joined Tulane’s faculty in 1992 from a professor position at Washington University in St. Louis’ Medical School, says that in addition to being able to work with “the extraordinary people of Tulane and New Orleans,” his favorite part of his job is that the “fascinating mixture of missions of education, cutting-edge research and quality clinical care are everything.” Hamm, who has spent the past year focused on recruiting top-notch doctors and scientists to Tulane’s Medical School, hopes to continue the institution’s legacy as a leading educational destination in the South.

– S.D.

Neil Barclay

Executive Director, Contemporary Arts Center

With a varied background that includes earning a law degree, experience as a singer and actor and work as an art consultant, Neil Barclay’s new role as executive director of the Contemporary Arts Center – a center that has housed such multidisciplinary fare as multimedia art installations, dance performances, film screenings and avant-garde children’s theater – seems fitting.

“I have worked in the cultural sector for most of my career,” Barclay says. “I was classically trained in theater and voice, and have most enjoyed working closely with artists from all artistic disciplines to realize their creative visions.”

Before taking the CAC position, Barclay was a senior consultant at the West Hollywood, Calif.-based Arts Consulting Group. Before that he served as associate director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Performing Arts Center and was founding president and CEO of the August Wilson Center in Pittsburgh. He was also the engine behind the completion of capital development, operations and fundraising plans for Los Angeles’ historic Vision Theater.

Barclay has big plans for his CAC tenure.

“My short-term goal is to guide the CAC in its efforts to become the best multi-disciplinary arts organization of its kind, not just in the United States but the world,” he says. “I’m mostly looking forward to the world-class performances and exhibitions the CAC will be bringing to New Orleans audiences.”

– L.L.

Lagniappe Brass Band

Mario Abney (trumpet), Joshua Brown (tuba), Roy Lancaster (trombone), Joshua Marotta (drums), Chet Overall (tenor sax, founder), Rob Walker (trombone) and James Williams (trumpet)

In October 2010, Chet Overall decided to form a high-energy brass band. In their own words: “The sticky, fried catfish scented air is the funk that New Orleans’ own Lagniappe Brass Band breathes. (It) hits hard with its up-tempo, high energy funk that makes asses shake and sweat glands sweat.”

Logging more than 250 shows a year both nationally and internationally, the seven-member band plays small, smoke-filled bars and in front of thousands at festivals, and boast of their “undeniable, massive wall of sound,” backed by an “infectious Afro-Cuban bass drum pulse that alone is the foundation for dancing,” Overall says. This past year alone, the band has learned about “contracts with big networks, (working with) big corporations (they appeared on “America’s Got Talent”) and finding the right people to do the job.” They have reached out to several people, including Jenny Tripkovich, to aid in their promotion and booking. In addition, they were selected by the Krewe of Endymion to serenade Grand Marshal Kelly Clarkson on her float during the parade, played numerous venues during the national NCAA Women’s Final Four and recently returned from several gigs around Spain.

– M.P.

Ron Maestri

Head Baseball Coach, University of New Orleans

In trying to resurrect the University of New Orleans’ baseball program, who better to recruit than the person considered responsible for leading the team to its former greatness?

Under Ron Maestri, who coached the UNO Privateers from 1972-’85 before serving as the school’s athletics director, the team advanced to the Division I College World Series – a first for a Louisiana team. After spending 30 years at UNO, Maestri went on to become the COO of the New Orleans Zephyrs.

Maestri was among the many who were disappointed when UNO dropped out of the Division I classification, but now that the school has reverted to its former classification Maestri was asked to come back and rebuild the team.

“My long-term goal is to help restore the baseball program the pride and enthusiasm it once had. In the short term I want to recruit the kind of athlete who has a vision of improving as a player, developing pride in UNO as we all remember it and graduating,” he says. “I want them to enjoy the game while they’re here.”

Maestri’s first game as coach will be Feb. 14, 2014. With the benefit of his experiences, perhaps he can create a baseball program that’s even better than fans remember it.

“I’m looking forward to working with the players, and also with the staff and faculty at UNO, who previously gave me 30 wonderful years,” he says. “How many times do you get the chance to ‘do it over again’ when you’re older, hopefully wiser and with a different perspective?”

– L.L.

Joseph F. Toomy

Chairman of the Board of the Commissioners, Port of New Orleans

The Mississippi River has played a big role in the history of New Orleans – both literally and figuratively – and Joseph F. Toomy knows all about it. He has sat on the Board of Commissioners of the Port of New Orleans since March 2009, and the board elected him chairman in December 2012.

Toomy’s experience in the maritime industry comes from his genes, as his father worked on both the Hudson River and the Mississippi River. Toomy also worked on barges and travelled on international cargo ships in high school and college. His background helped him develop an appreciation for the river and its impact on New Orleans. “It’s very humbling to play a leadership role in a sector that’s an essential part of who we are as New Orleanians,” he says.

Toomy, who also served as a state representative in the Louisiana legislature from 1984 to 2008, has big plans to help the riverfront get to its “full potential.” Projects include building a third cruise terminal, as well as redeveloping wharfs that aren’t currently usable. There is also a plan to meet the Port’s goal of handling 1 million containers per year, which is double what it handles now. In addition, he has been instrumental in starting the Port’s environmental office, which will help shippers reduce their carbon footprint. “I view this effort as a continuation of the work that the Port does,” he says, “to be a good neighbor in our community.”

– H.A.

LaShawna Schofield

Executive Director, Raintree Children & Family Services

Having worked at Raintree Children & Family Services, a nonprofit that strives to provide an array of services to the community in order to “create opportunities for independent lives,” since 2007 in multiple positions, Schofield has always enjoyed helping others. While attending high school at Xavier Prep she became a peer counselor and went on to study Counseling Education at the University of New Orleans. Once she became a professional counselor she found herself, “wanting to concentrate on children” and how she “could make an impact on their lives.”

“Once arriving at Raintree,” she says, “I was able to work with troubled youth on a daily basis and felt this was where I was most needed. I choose to work with children who experience emotional, behavioral and developmental challenges. They are less heard and often overlooked. I love seeing them smile when they’ve accomplished something that others might take for granted.”

At Raintree, she plans to: increase long term permanency outcomes for children in foster care; continue helping families meet the challenges of caring for children who experience developmental delays (through their Family Support Coordination program); recruit additional families to foster and adopt; and increase support to families with children in need of early intervention services. In addition, a new portion of programing will begin this fall to “further educate and support families whose children experience developmental delays.”

When not at work, she enjoys spending time with her husband, Derrick Bennett, and her stepdaughters, Domonique and Demi.

– M.P.

Pearce Grieshaber

Owner and Editor, Once Upon a Home

Pearce Grieshaber is fascinated with our city’s history. When his parents were renovating their Uptown home in 2006, he found a piece of newspaper in the wall dated 1885. As a gift to them, he researched the history of their house and created a “tailor-made narrative” of the home from the time it was grazing lands more than 200 years ago to the house it is today.

He created Once Upon a Home to write detailed histories of local houses, coordinating research and layout to produce illustrated hardcovers for the homeowners, making it convenient for them to share their house’s story with friends and guests.

   “My favorite moments happen when I find pictures or stories that really shed light on a house or building’s narrative,” he says. “Our city’s history isn’t limited to gregarious personalities.” It is also “… the maritime engineer who made his living salvaging ships from the bottom of the Mississippi River.”

Moving forward he hopes to expand the size of his publishing staff to meet increased volume, including the posters that he has recently completed for local businesses, as well as continuing as a member of the New Orleans Fire Department.

“It’s one thing to have the information out there, it’s another to locate it, process it, write about it, edit it and lay it all out to create a compelling story,” he says. “People often say. ‘If these walls could talk …’” Through Once Upon a Home walls do talk, and Grieshaber gives them a voice.

– M.P.

Joel M. Hamilton

Vice President, Audubon Nature Institute; General Curator, Audubon Zoo

 Joel M. Hamilton got into the zoo business to work around exotic animals, to both take care of them in captivity and to make a difference in the world people and animals share. That is exactly what he’s doing as the general curator of Audubon Zoo and as a vice president for the Audubon Nature Institute.

Hamilton took over at the Audubon Zoo in January 2013. He previously served as the zoo director of Salisbury Zoological Park in Salisbury, Md., but he has been a part of several different conservation programs. “One of the most rewarding was assisting scientists in Amazonia Peru in doing a population study of birds,” he says. “This work combined with the data from the other scientists resulted in the Peruvian government setting aside the research site as a national park.”

In New Orleans, Hamilton is looking forward to the new elephant and orangutan exhibits at the zoo, which are scheduled to be completed in 2014. He is also excited to see “The Alliance for Sustainable Wildlife, a partnership between the Audubon Nature Institute and San Diego Zoo Global to create a breeding center for rare species in Algiers, come to fruition.”

“My long-term goal is to be part of a major zoological facility that is dedicated to the environment, conservation and teaching guests about it,” he says. “That is one of the reasons why I joined the Audubon team.”

– H.A.

Dana Reed

Director, Hope Stone Kids New Orleans

Before landing in New Orleans, Dana Reed danced her way from her hometown of Meridian, Miss., all the way up to New York City, with a few stops in Asia and Europe along the way. Reed started her latest dance project from scratch in 2010 with Hope Stone Kids New Orleans, a nonprofit that provides after school dance and arts programs to area children. Since its founding, Hope Stone has grown from 23 children in its first summer camp to more than 250 children during the ’12-’13 school year and is now based in NOLA Spaces on Toledano Street. At Hope Stone, 90 percent of area children receive scholarships for free or reduced tuition.

After graduating from the University of Southern Mississippi in 2003 with a degree in dance education, Reed moved to New York City to pursue a professional dance career. From there, she established her adult dance company, Alternative Collaborations Dance, which she has brought to New Orleans as well.

Reed considers building the arts program at Hope Stone New Orleans as her greatest accomplishment, and is grateful to be surrounded by a team of educators who are as passionate about arts education as she is.

“Personally, I owe my success to my involvement in the arts, because they gave me self-confidence and determination,” Reed says. “No matter the odds, I persist; dance has given me that. I find it so important to teach these values to our youth. I’m showing them that you can be successful in what you love doing.”

– S.D.

Cassie and Candace Bienvenu

Co-owners and buyers, Candy Apple

Candace Bienvenu decided to channel her love of fashion through Candy Apple, a “blog shop” on Facebook where she sold jewelry she made herself. The idea took off and now Candace, and her sister, Cassie, have plans to open a Candy Apple brick and mortar store in Metairie this month.

Candace started the Candy Apple blog shop in March 2012. In addition to her jewelry, she was selling purses and clothing, with everything costing $60 or less. Within the first few months, she was selling out of everything. “I soon realized our shoppers made decisions in minutes, not hours, because everything was reasonably priced,” she says.

As the small business grew, Cassie joined Candy Apple in June 2012 and the two sisters started hosting several pop-up shops, inspired by similar events Candace had seen while living in New York City as well as flash sales online. The combination took off, thanks to heavy social media marketing on Facebook and Instagram.

Being sisters, one of the biggest challenges the two faced in the last year was finding the balance between business and family and making a business partnership work. But sibling rivalry hasn’t seemed to slow them down; they’re proud they’re taking “Candy Apple to the next level as a team;” and they’re elated that their dream of opening their own boutique is finally happening. The sisters say they choose to live by the motto, “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

– H.A.

Stirling Barrett

Owner and founder, KREWE du optic

Luxury frames are in, as evidenced by the ubiquity of the vintage chic eyewear of Warby Parker and the perennial favorite Ray Bans. Stirling Barrett is making it possible to sport stylish glasses and support a local business with KREWE du optic, his homegrown eyewear brand.

An artist and photographer known for his photo collages of New Orleans houses and his printmaking work, Barrett saw designing sunglasses as a natural progression as an artist.

“The same artistic consideration and process goes into designing the line as composing a photograph,” he says.

KREWE offers its own takes on classic styles like the “P3” and “Wayfarer” with New Orleans-centric names including Calliope, Toulouse and The Fly. The line is available online and in some local boutiques.

Barrett used musicians Meschiya Lake, Charles Lumar II, Luke Winslow King and other locals as models for KREWE’s website, and in the future he’d like to partner with New Orleans artists to design frames and cases. The city’s “casual-in-character attitude” is the main inspiration for the line, but Barrett sees KREWE becoming a brand known outside the city.

“I’d love to see KREWE grow into a global and recognizable product,” he says. “I want to expand past the city, but always maintain the integrity of being a New Orleans-based and inspired brand.”

– L.L.

William Pittman Andrews

Director, Ogden Museum of Southern Art

As the Director of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, William Andrews not only provides leadership and administration, he’s also responsible for the museum’s intellectual and aesthetic philosophy; advocates for the museum and its mission; works closely with the Board of Trustees and staff to provide ongoing strategic planning; works with the staff to create exhibitions, programs and events that appeal to a diverse community; and works further the museum’s mission.

“I have worked in galleries and museums for nearly 20 years,” Andrews says, adding that he’s “passionate about the region’s history, geography and culture – the art of the American South.”
Andrews is an artist himself, maintaining a studio and seeing his art included in exhibitions at Octavia Gallery and, “in a recent exhibition called ‘Pencil Pushed’ at the University of Tennessee, which was about non-traditional drawing practices.”

This past August marked the museum’s 10th anniversary, and with more than 40,000 people visiting each year, Andrews says its primary goal is to remain relevant, “to actively engage the audience and to be good stewards of the resources you have been entrusted care of,” while creating a “participatory experience” where people come to “do things together as a community.”

A particular accomplishment this year, Andrews says, was receiving the Sweet Home New Orleans Empower Musicians award for “Best Music Business Practices.” Because the museum employs around 400 musicians a year, “being recognized for our support of Southern musicians and their music is gratifying.”

– M.P.

Rebecca A. Burt


Rebecca Burt was the kid “who always had a pocket full of rocks and shells and strange pieces of wood or plastic.” As a metalsmith, she specializes in the “odd and eclectic” and her one-of-a-kind pieces portray a “juxtaposition of smoothness with textures, round shapes with points, static with motion.”

Her pieces tend to combine traditional metals, including copper, silver and brass, with found objects such as poker chips and watch parts. Her pieces also often incorporate keum boo, a Korean technique that fuses 24 karat gold to silver, as well as incorporating textures achieved through roller printing, forging, reticulation, stamping, filing, chasing, soldering, repoussé (which involves hammering on the wrong side) and wrapping.

In addition to working on a set of larger pieces for a gallery show later this fall, she’s also continuing a series of pieces that feature King Cake babies, “I want to continue revealing their exploits,” she shares.

In addition to displaying her works at festivals, art markets and galleries throughout Louisiana and multiple states, Burt also teaches jewelry making at The New Orleans School of Art and Craft in Bywater. Teaching, she says, allows her “the opportunity to educate people in techniques and help them learn for themselves that they, too, can create art.” In addition, she “would like to establish a permanent working studio for metal artists where they can share studio time and space as a less expensive alternative to establishing their own studios and have access to visiting artists in other fields.”

– M.P.

Joel Dinerstein

Director, Tulane University’s Center for the Gulf South; Curator and Historian of American Cool

Joel Dinerstein is “passionate about the art and complexity of American popular culture, especially when revealed in historical context,” which he “teaches to pass it on.” For the past nearly 30 years, Dinerstein has been using popular, “specifically, African-American music,” to create a more accurate narrative of American history. “Through music,” he says, “I create pathways for understanding that the United States has always been a multi-ethnic, multi-racial society.”

His first book, Swinging the Machine: Modernity, Technology and African-American Culture Between the World Wars, is a cultural history of jazz and industrialization, and won the prestigious Kayden Book Prize in 2004, an award given to the best book on the humanities published by an academic press.

He has lectured on “cool” all over the country and Europe, which will culminate on Feb. 7, 2014, when the exhibit he co-curated, American Cool, will open at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery. This photography and American Studies exhibit will “attempt to define the elusive concept of cool through 100 icons of American culture.” Sponsored by The History Channel, it will run until mid-September. His next book, American Cool (Prestel) is the museum catalogue and will be out Feb. 1.

In addition, at Tulane University, Dinerstein is facilitating the Gulf South Center’s building of a website, with the help of a grant from the Music-Rising Foundation, to be called Music-Rising at Tulane, which will serve as a portal for understanding the music, dance and ritual of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region through academic frameworks. 

– M.P.

Marguerite Green

Manager of Press St. Gardens, The NOCCA Institute

“I think some people are just born plant people. They know each other when they see each other,” Marguerite Green says. “There’s just something about growing that compels me to want to do it every hour of every day.”

It is perfect, then, that Green is now the manager of Press St. Gardens, a half-acre garden space The NOCCA Institute is developing to serve as an outdoor classroom for students and to provide produce for the institute’s culinary arts department’s food truck, which will be located in the garden, as well as for local markets and restaurants. The institute plans for the garden to be open every day, selling flowers and produce, and for the food truck to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

Before taking on the position in May, Green served as a staff educator for Teaching Responsible Earth Education (T.R.E.E.), which provides outdoor education programs to children, and started her own horticulture business. At NOCCA she will oversee all agricultural operations, create educational programs for students and the public and market produce to area farmers markets and restaurants.

“Choosing to support these operations isn’t always easier for you as a consumer, but it helps build a system where it can be later down the line,” Green says. “When you can purchase something, anything, made in Louisiana or the Gulf South, rather than overseas, it sends a message to us, the producers, that you want these operations to continue.”

– L.L.

Billy Bosch

CEO and Co-Founder, Be Well Nutrition, Inc.

New Orleans is certainly known for cocktails, but thanks to Billy Bosch, CEO and co-founder of Be Well Nutrition, the city is now getting recognition for a different sort of drink. Bosch and his business partner, Matt Mouras, have teamed up with Molly Kimball, lead nutritionist at Oschner’s Elmwood Fitness Center, to create ICONIC – a natural, healthy beverage that promises to create healthy energy, satisfy hunger and enhance focus. “There was a gap in the market for a product that didn’t exist, a drink that’s healthy, filling, and of course, tasty,” Bosch says. “Most drinks are loaded with sugar and artificial ingredients, or don’t provide the qualities I needed to fuel a typical person’s busy day in a healthy way. That’s how ICONIC was created.”

 ICONIC is currently offered in chocolate truffle, pure vanilla bean and wild strawberry flavors. While he admits that the challenges that arise with a startup can be rough, Bosch has already reached milestones that many small business owners only dream of. In 2013 alone, Be Well and ICONIC won first place prizes in the Jefferson Economic Development Commission’s Cordina Challenge and the Tulane Business Plan Competition, and Bosch was named a “Top 30 Under 30” for New Orleans by Under30Ceo.com. With ICONIC on shelves in more than 20 stores, including Rouses and Robért Fresh Market in the Greater New Orleans area, Bosch has plans to expand even further. In the meantime, he suggests, “Try an ICONIC. If you don’t like it, your next drink is on us.”

– S.D.

Jerry Bologna

Executive Director, Jefferson Parish Economic Development Commission

After serving Jefferson Parish Economic Development Commission for 12 years in various capacities, most recently as Deputy Director, Jerry Bologna feels equipped to take Jefferson Parish to the next level as JEDCO’s’s newly appointed Executive Director. “My long term goal is to make sure that the economic landscape of Jefferson Parish remains the most vibrant and diverse in the state of Louisiana,” he says, “Towards that end, this year has already been one of the most successful in JEDCO’s history.”

Under Bologna’s leadership, JEDCO, with community and political support, has been able to attract national headquarters, international production facilities, new retailers and service firms to the area. “I would say my greatest accomplishment has been taking over a mature organization – the only local accredited economic development organization in the state – and achieving that organization’s most successful year in nearly every measurable category in just six months,” he says.

On top of JEDCO’s successes under his command, Bologna’s personal successes with the organization are notable as well. This year he made the inaugural “40 under 40” international list of economic developers by Development Counsellors International, and in 2011 he was named the International Economic Development Council’s “New Economic Development Professional of the Year.” But Bologna’s drive to do his job right goes much deeper. “Not many people get to go to work every morning knowing that their efforts that day are going to have an impact on the future of the community in which they live,” he says. 

– S.D.

Jackie Sumell

Artist and Activist, Herman’s House Film and Project

Like others, Jackie Sumell has a prison pen pal. But her friend Herman Wallace is a part of the “Angola Three,” a group of inmates who were linked to the death of a prison guard – despite any physical evidence of their role in the murder – and given solitary confinement. Wallace has lived in his tiny cell for more than 41 years.

In a letter in 2003, Sumell posed a question meant to trigger Wallace’s imagination: “What kind of house does a man who has lived in a six-foot-by-nine-foot box for over 30 years dream of?” This question has inspired an art project that was exhibited at Prospect.1 and around the world, a book containing excerpts of their letters, the documentary Herman’s House, which premiered on PBS in July, and a plan to build the house of Wallace’s dreams.

Sumell is working to raise the money to build the house, which would serve as a community center before Wallace’s release. She is also working with activists that include Amnesty International to give Wallace freedom, a goal that has become more important: Wallace was diagnosed with liver cancer in June.

Sumell is devoted to fighting for Wallace’s release, building his dream home and working against what she sees as a criminal justice system rife with inequalities, but it isn’t always easy. “It’s a delicate balance between exhaustion and frustration,” Sumell says. “That means I practice a lot of yoga in the short term.”

– L.L.

Kelly Fouchi and Gary Rucker

Artistic and Managing Directors, Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts

What Kelly Fouchi and Gary Rucker have already accomplished as the new artistic and managing directors of the Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts is impressive. Their list of accomplishments in their first year with the theater includes producing 13 shows, renovating and reinstating the children’s theater and upgrading the technical equipment. But they see this as only the beginning.

Fouchi and Rucker have been around the New Orleans performing arts scene for a while, as both attended the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and have performed at every major theater in the New Orleans area. The two founded FourFront Theatre in 2008 and then Theatre 13 in ’09. In ’12, Theatre 13 became the managing theater company of The Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts, which is owned by the city of Kenner.

Fouchi and Rucker say the secret to their successful first year was being hard on themselves and setting high standards. “Our biggest challenge of the last year was starting from scratch … and letting people know the theater was open and the game had changed,” Fouchi says. The first season received positive reviews and good attendance, but Rucker and Fouchi continue to set new goals such as building a larger season ticket base and appealing to a younger audience. They are also looking for corporate sponsors to help continue to upgrade the productions and the theater’s equipment. “Our sophomore season is more ambitious than our first “ Fouchi says, “and we plan to continue to raise the bar.”

– H.A.

Herreast J. Harrison

Founder and Program Director, Guardians Institute

While some 76-year-olds might choose to retire and live a life of relaxation, Herreast J. Harrison is in no way relaxing. As the founder and program director of the Guardians Institute, a volunteer organization in the 9th Ward that helps promote literacy and physical fitness among kids, she’s devoting much of her time to helping her community through spreading the love of reading.

Herreast is the widow of the late Big Chief Donald Harrison Sr., a famous Mardi Gras Indian who loved to read. He passed away in 1998; she started the Guardians Institute in 2006 in his honor. Through The Big Chief Donald Harrison Sr., Book Club, Harrison has been able to put “high quality literature into the hands of children,” she says.

In 2011 she received the Director’s Community Leadership Award for New Orleans, which was presented to her in Washington D.C., for how her “efforts have helped provide at-risk children a chance to succeed.”

One of her biggest challenges in the last year was maintaining community outreach while securing funds to open the Donald Harrison Sr., Museum, but she persevered and the museum was finished in 2013. The official opening is set to happen around Mardi Gras 2014. She is also proud her group has distributed more than 33,000 books valued at more than $400,000 to area school children through educational programming.

At 76 years old, Harrison says she’ll continue to enhance the lives of children because, she says, “The joy of seeing a child flip through the pages of the book warms my heart.”

– H.A.

CJ Hunt and Kyle June Williams

Creators and actors, Sunken City web series

Two of the characters CJ Hunt and Kyle June Williams portray in Sunken City are a pair of style-over-substance entrepreneurs peddling a bogus startup. The actors behind the characters, though, couldn’t be any more different: the two have worked hard to create, star in and secure funding for their New Orleans-based comedy web series.

“I have to constantly remind myself that great comedies like ‘Arrested Development’ are made not simply by a good concept, but by people choosing to put off the laundry, hunker down in a coffee shop and write, write, write,” Hunt says.

Williams echoes that: “We are proud to be apart of a generation who doesn’t wait for opportunity – we make it.”

Williams is a NYU-trained actor from Florida; Hunt is a comedian from Illinois. Both moved to New Orleans — where Williams would work as an actor and Hunt would eventually help found The New Movement comedy theater – and both fell in love with the city.

The series follows three sets of New Orleans characters, all played by Hunt and Williams: besides the entrepreneurs, there’s the owners of a French Quarter ghost tour business and a couple who aspires to Carnival royalty. The pilot premiered in June, and recently the pair met their $10,000 Kickstarter funding goal to film the rest of the six-episode season, which is slated to premiere this fall.

Hunt and Williams plan to submit the series to film festivals and hope for it to get picked up by a national network. 

– L.L.

Curry W. Smith

Executive Director, Young Leadership Council
The new executive director of the Young Leadership Council has no easy task achieving the successful execution of the major projects for which the nonprofit is known. The YLC has taken on such projects as the Wednesday at the Square concert series as well as successfully advocating for and funding the installation of lights on the Crescent City Expressway. Prior to his arrival with YLC, Smith was no stranger to promoting civic-minded progress for the city, as he acted as the senior business development associate at Greater New Orleans, Inc.

There are many reasons he enjoys his job, he says. It is “more challenging than any other endeavor I’ve undertaken … and that makes it the most rewarding thing that I’ve done in my professional life.”

He believes his new role at YLC will open up opportunities for both the city of New Orleans and for him to live his personal axiom of “leave everything better than you found it.”

His most recent project, called NOLAbound, provides an all-expenses-paid program in New Orleans to 25 professionals from around the country. Looking ahead, Smith is excited about starting next year’s Wednesday at the Square concert series, as it will be his second time overseeing the operation of one of the city’s favorite springtime traditions.

He says that it’s the continuous support and encouragement he receives from his mother, Conni Harris Smith, and younger brother, Charles “Cas” Smith, that has allowed him to be in such an advantageous position to effect positive change for New Orleans.

– N.T.

Megan Victoria

Artist and Gemologist; Proprietor of Jupiter Lala

Getting married, moving to a new city and starting a business are major life changes usually made one at a time; artist and gemologist Megan Victoria did all three in the last year.

Her business, Jupiter Lala, currently focuses on her jewelry, which she feels is very personal. “Jewelry is something we wear, so it’s close to our skin; it’s close to our hearts.” She enjoys the artistry of it, “the grinding, the heating of the precious metals,” and says it feels like painting. “Even on my most trying days,” she says, “my focus is beauty, sentiment and meaning. I love each of my jewels and am always happy seeing them go to a new home to be treasured year after year.”

Victoria is creating a themed collection that will combine her paintings and jewelry. “I’m using my token storytelling narrative in such a way where creatures and their mediums will play off of each other … it brings together my three loves: jewelry, painting and fable.”

In the long term, she would like to see her pieces in “galleries and museums in remote spots around the world.” Locally, you can find her pieces in the gift shop of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and once a month at the Arts Market of New Orleans.
In addition, she recently partnered with a friend to launch Bats on Tees, a curated collection of goods made with other creative individuals from the New Orleans area.

– M.P.

Morgan Molthrop

Founder, Owner, Tailored Tours New Orleans

After obtaining a law degree, teaching at New York University, working for Disney, modeling in Paris and Milan, becoming the “Levi’s guy” in Greece and even editing books for the woman who managed Martha Stewart, Morgan Molthrop has arrived back in his hometown of New Orleans with a splash that can only be expected from a man with such a colorful background. Upon leaving New York to return to the Big Easy, he ran the tour guide training program for Gray Line Tours. From there, Molthrop quickly discovered his next project: revamping the tour industry in the city.

“When I got back home from New York, I was astonished at the ‘hoop skirt’ approach to Southern touring that was going on especially in the French Quarter,” Molthrop says. “And, frankly, New Orleans deserves a lot better.”

His company, Tailored Tours, offers authentic, raw experiences for consumers, with tours ranging from “Code Noir Congo Square, Civil Rights and Rooftop Rescues,” to “Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln in New Orleans,” to “The Art Scene in Post-Katrina New Orleans.” The company offers tours in five different languages, employs a wide array of guides and the menu of custom events offers entertainment that even a local would enjoy, such as “block parties in undiscovered neighborhoods,” and “dine-arounds in pop-up restaurants.”

Additionally, he will be focusing on two major programs with Tailored Tours this year: Free tour guide training classes for minorities and an annual fundraiser for the NO/AIDS task force that involves a gay history tour.

– S.D.

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