PEOPLE TO WATCH 2007
Sgt. Pepper was last seen taking a club of lonely-hearts for a ride on a yellow submarine. We have assembled our own band of characters known not as much for their musicianship but for satisfying our annual search for new notables. “People to Watch” we define as mostly new faces who are doing something interesting with their lives that’s worthy of our awareness or, in some cases, familiar faces moving in a different direction. In making our picks we’ve sought recommendations from others and done our own probing. The process of making such selections is a demanding but it’s getting better all the time. P.S. For the benefit of Mr. Kite: Please call Lovely Rita.
News Director, WDSU-TV
Although his most recent job was in Oklahoma City, Jonathan Shelley, the new news director at WDSU-TV, News Channel 6, knows fist-hand about what the city experienced with Katrina. At the time of the storm Shelley was an assistant news director at an Oklahoma City station owned by Hearst-Argyle, the same company that owns WDSU. In August 2005 as Katrina churned, Shelley led a team from his station to help WDSU with its coverage. “We saw up-close the impact that the storm had on our friends and co-workers at the television station,” Shelley recalls. Despite what he experienced, Shelley apparently liked the city. When an opening occurred for the WDSU news director position, Shelley applied and got the job. The move came “just three months after my wedding, so Staci and I experienced a whirlwind of planning.” Now he’s planning for the future of WDSU news and he’s ready for the challenge. According the Shelley, “there may be no better place than New Orleans for those who live to bring you the news.”
What’s next? Shelley says, “Our goal is to put together the best newscast in Southeast Louisiana, each and every day.” – Errol Laborde
Executive Chef, Grill Room, Windsor Court Hotel
For Greg Sonnier the last year was one of ups and downs, fortunately it ended with an up. Sonnier is the new executive chef at the Windsor Court Hotel’s Grill Room. The bumpy road to one of the city’s most prestigious jobs began when Katrina destroyed Gabrielle, the popular restaurant that he and his wife Mary (also a chef) operated on Esplanade Avenue. Then when the Sonniers thought they had secured a deal to open a restaurant Uptown they ran into a buzz saw of neighborhood opposition. Sonnier’s plight earned the sympathy of most locals who appreciated and missed his culinary ability. That is why the news of his selection to the Windsor Court position was widely appreciated. Looking back at the past year Sonnier says that his biggest challenge was to convince neighbors and city officials that “having a five-star restaurant in the city of New Orleans is a good thing.” Now he has a chance to enhance the kitchen at one of the nation’s most prestigious hotels. That’s a good thing, too.
What’s next? Sonnier says that he hopes “to write a cookbook someday.” – E.L.
Women & Wine on Wednesdays
Co-founder, Christy Hackenberg; Creator, Linda Brewster-Meffert; Co-founders Sandra Lombana and Gaby Tillero
In June 2005, Linda Meffert took her extensive leadership experience in corporate senior financial management and created Women & Wine on Wednesdays (WWW), a monthly event for building relationships and re-connecting with old friends through a uniquely facilitated forum for women’s networking held on the third Wednesday of each month. She partnered up with Sandra Lombana who introduced Meffert to Christy Hackenberg and Gaby Tillero – owners of Creative Zumo who branded and designed the marketing materials for WWW. These women have created a monthly networking event that fills a void in helping women transition through the many stages of their careers – and it’s free.
Through a unique and efficient program called “Women Bingo,” these ladies have created a way to create opportunities for direct introductions in a short amount of time while providing a polite and enthusiastic way of excusing oneself and gracefully interrupting others – and, if you finish first, you win a complimentary bottle of the featured wine of the evening. Meffert believes that through WWW any woman can create her own “Good Ol’ Girls Network.”
Last year, WWW extended to Houston and soon will be adding chapters in Atlanta, Denver, Vancouver, San Diego, St. Louis, Cincinnati, San Antonio and Orlando. “The best part is when we get to introduce people whose lives will be better after knowing each other,” says Meffert.
What’s next? Other than assisting the new chapters of Women & Wine on Wednesdays, Meffert, Hackenberg, Lombana and Tillero are rooted in their desire to provide an ongoing forum for women to help improve the balance in their lives. – Morgan Packard
Director of Aviation, Louis Armstrong/New Orleans International Airport
He once set a goal for himself to be an airport executive within 10 years. Within five years, Sean Hunter, the new director of aviation at the Louis Armstrong/New Orleans International Airport, achieved his goal. Now if only the jets could meet their arrival times with such haste. Hunter, who had been a deputy director at the airport, was named interim director when the position was vacated in May 2006. His audition was successful as he proved himself to be an aggressive manager determined to make the airport look and feel better. Besides securing his job, Hunter’s biggest challenge during the past year was assuring that the airport was “made whole by our insurance carriers.” He’s also worked at encouraging flight service to return to Pre-Katrina levels – presently it’s at 75 percent. So how does an aviation director begin his day? Checking the regional weather of course, and then inspecting the terminal. Now the boss, Sean Hunter has had a happy landing.
What’s next? Hunter says that he’s “looking forward to 2008 and all the events on tap for the city and region.” – E.L.
Executive Director, American Institute of Architects, New Orleans
In the small but growing office of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in New Orleans, Executive Director Melissa Urcan wears many hats including accountant, fundraiser, event organizer, lobbyist and leader. “As I started this position last year,” Urcan says, “I wanted to come in and make a palpable difference quickly in order for the membership to realize that a real and positive shift had occurred. By increasing member benefits … we were able to both expand our capacity and broaden our reach.” She also nearly quadrupled their budget within her first six months on the job through her fundraising efforts – not too shabby for a transplant from Los Angeles.
In December, Urcan and the AIA are organizing a citywide series of art and design installations centered downtown and in the French Quarter. “We will also host numerous events and activities in the immediate and near future,” Urcan promises, “including architecture tours, podcasts, design awards and a lecture series. We are keeping busy … now is the time to get to know the new AIA New Orleans!”
What’s next? “In order to strengthen our presence and image in the city,” Urcan says, “AIA New Orleans is moving into a new storefront before the end of this year. This space will allow us to hold lectures, meeting and events … including a gallery space reserved exclusively for architecture and design exhibitions.” – M.P.
President and CEO, Pamlab LLC
Barry LeBlanc, president of the Northshore-based pharmaceutical company Pamlab leads a charmed, albeit busy life. LeBlanc joined Pamlab in 1997 to “assist with the development of a strategic plan;” eventually he moved up to president and in January he was named chief executive officer as well.
Typically, he arises at 5:30 a.m. to jumpstart his day and then works through lunch. He’s been a key factor in Pamlab’s success and he’s a strong advocate and role model for business-minded citizens in the city. A typical day for him ends with an evening business or civic meeting.
Balance and family are very important to him as well – he’s raised three children with his high school sweetheart and wife of 30 years, Teresa. In fact, the couple was jointly awarded the Alumni of the Year by the Loyola University, Joseph A. Butt, S.J. College of Business Administration. Last year LeBlanc wanted to “play a meaningful role in rebuilding our wonderful city while acknowledging [his] professional and fiduciary responsibilities to a growing pharmaceutical business.” How’d he do it? “Through intense planning and scheduling, coupled with some very long days and fractured weekends.”
What’s next? LeBlanc recognizes the importance of young people in the community. “I look forward to my children returning to New Orleans from college to find full-time, challenging employment,” he says. “I also look forward to the graduates of our local colleges and universities remaining in the city long after their education is complete. We should encourage this partnership between our business community and this educated youthful population.” –Sarah Ravits
Head Basketball Coach, University of New Orleans
Life took a sudden bounce for Joe Pasternack earlier this year when the University of New Orleans (UNO) head basketball coach job was suddenly vacated. With his name already in the resume file from having applied for the position before, the New Orleans native was quickly awarded the job. Having played prep basketball at Country Day, Pasternack went on to specialize in coaching at the college level. He was a student manager under Coach Bobby Knight at Indiana University and then spent eight years as an assistant for Coach Ben Braun at Cal-Berkeley. “I was very fortunate to learn from two of the winningest coaches in college history,” Pasternack says. “I am really excited about coming home to the city I love and leading my hometown team.” Then he adds one other note: “Go Privateers!”
What’s next? “Building a program at UNO with high character individuals,” Pasternack says, “who want to get a degree, and become successful both on the court and in the classroom.” – E.L.
Managing Partner, Carrollton Technology Partners; Technology Architect, Louisiana Rebuilds; Chief Information Officer, Louisiana Family Recovery Corporation
Being managing partner of Carrollton Technology Partners (CTP) in enough to keep a person challenged but Christopher Reade also divides his time as president of the Young Leadership Council, Technology Architect for Louisiana Rebuilds (www.louisianarebuilds.info) and chief information officer for the Louisiana Family Recovery Corporation. Rebuilding a failed technology business he had started in New York City, Reade, who had moved permanently to New Orleans in 2000, opened CTP along with three other partners in 2003. After Katrina the focus of the business changed dramatically: “I went on to help found what is now called the Louisiana Family Recovery Corporation,” Reade says. “We discovered that several other groups were also working on developing the same thing. Instead of creating several different sites I then worked with over 20 groups to hammer out a portal website that is now called Louisiana Rebuilds.” Reade also brings recovery information to radio through a spot on WWNO FM. Away from the technical side of life, Reade and his wife play volleyball at Coconut Beach about two nights a week. Then there is seven-month-old daughter Fiona: Each morning, “I go in and look over the edge of her crib and she looks up at me with the most amazing smile and twinkle in her eyes that seems to say ‘Ooooo? I know you. I like you a whole lot,’” Reade says. “I feel so trite saying that this is best moment of my whole day but it really is.”
What’s next? “We are going to be launching our first independent product in the fall,” Reade says. “I am looking forward to that.” – E.L.
Partner, Phelps Dunbar LLP
As a partner at the law firm of Phelps Dunbar LLP (the oldest New Orleans-based law firm) Kim Boyle generally works on the defense side of the employment law group. Along the way, she has served as Judge Pro Tompore of District I of City District Court for nine months, as pro bono legal counsel for Covenant House and as the first African-American president of New Orleans Bar Association. She has received, among other honors, the New Orleans Bar Association President’s Award for her work protecting the rights of displaced voters, City Business’ Leaders in Law Award and was recognized as a SuperLawyer in Louisiana in employment litigation.
Boyle has also spent a great deal of time working to speed New Orleans’ recovery. “I worked a lot with community support organizations to complete a recovery plan for the city of New Orleans,” Boyle says. “It involved getting people from different economic backgrounds, racial groups, neighborhood groups … to ensure our “unified plan” could be presented. It … was presented last month and accepted by the Louisiana Recovery Authority. I was a part of that.”
What’s next? “I’m looking forward to hopefully continuing to be a very small part of not just the recovery if the city,” Boyle says, “but making our city better than it ever was prior to Katrina and making it a place that’s economically viable, where there’s affordable housing and quality healthcare.” – M.P.
Creators: Left Behind: The Story of the
New Orleans Public Schools
Producer, Writer, Editor, Co-Director Vince Morelli; Consulting Producer, Story Contributor Jeremy Cooker; and Co-Director, Story Contributor Jason B. Berry
“Our hopes were that we could increase awareness of the human environment in America,” says Vincent Morelli, a producer, writer, director and editor of the documentary Left Behind: The Story of the New Orleans Public Schools. “We have collectively created this … and it’s completely within our power to improve it if we wish.”
The story that Morelli, along with Jason B. Berry and Jeremy Cooker told was astonishing, leaving local, national and international viewers with more awareness and compassion for the underprivileged in New Orleans.
The three agree that while the challenges the children in the documentary faced are still prevalent today, they can be overcome through mentoring programs, community outreach projects – by helping children in any positive way that one can. Morelli says the 90-minute documentary has inspired people to volunteer as tutors in the New Orleans public schools.
Cooker, who served as a consulting producer and story contributor, asks “If you love this city, what better way to show it than by caring for its children?”
What’s next? Berry, a senior vice president for Media Marshal Networks, wants to take his company public in the next few years and teach his son to play golf. Morelli will work on a philosophical profile piece examining the arts in New Orleans and debut a musical theater piece. Cooker plans to return to New Orleans permanently (he relocated after the storm) and says he would love to work again with the men he praises for having “strong feelings about New Orleans and people that are struggling. They want to make a difference here and worldwide and I’d love to be a part of that.” –S.R.
President, Broadway South, LLC; Actor
One of New Orleans’ biggest stage stars has been performing behind the scenes. Roger Wilson is the president of Broadway South, LLC. More than just an entrepreneur, Wilson has already proved himself to be an effective lobbiest. He was hired by the Nagin administration to push the proposed Broadway South bill through the legislature. With the bill’s passage the city, and indeed the rest of the state, has the opportunity to use investment incentives as a way of attracting major theater productions and concerts. That in turn should create a new level of cultural tourism. Wilson says his goal was to find “more ways to get people to invest in New Orleans.” In trying to achieve that his biggest challenge was “staying calm and focused.” Now his company will be among those trying to attract shows to the city, a task for which he clearly deserves the spotlight.
What’s next? “Waking up tomorrow,” Wilson says. “Never take that for granted.” – E.L.
Superintendent, Archdioceses schools, New Orleans
When Kathleen Finnerty visited New Orleans in March of this year she was moved by the spirit. In this case, the spirit was that of the struggling post-Katrina Archdiocese of New Orleans’ school system that nevertheless was providing schooling for 3,500 public school systems. The Ursuline nun, who at the time was the assistant superintendent of schools for Wilmington, Del., decided that she wanted to get involved in the New Orleans recovery. Now, she’ll be involved in a big way as superintendent of the archdioceses schools. In applying to the archdioceses’ selection committee Finnerty wrote of New Orleans, “obviously the mission to teach ‘as Jesus did’ was not quenched by the forces of Mother Nature.” Finnerty continued: “On my return to Wilmington I was not able to shed the images I had taken with me.” A few days later she heard about the New Orleans job opening and “was inspired to respond.” Curiously, Ursuline nuns were among the very first educators in the city’s history. Now one of the order’s daughters has arrived to face one of the archdioceses biggest challenges ever.
What’s next? Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes says, “She’s committed to the Catholic mission, inner city schools and inter-school cooperation.” – E.L.
Mamie Sterkx Gasperecz
Executive Director, Hermann-Grima/Gallier Historic Houses
Bringing history to the next generation through her role as executive director of the Hermann-Grima/Gallier Historic Houses, Mamie Sterkx Gasperecz is excited to be starting her third career. “With this job I’ll be able to combine what I’ve learned from finance, management and education with my love for preservation and the city,” she says.
Gasperecz was on the board of directors last year and was integral in obtaining the Getty Foundation Strategic Planning Grant, which she says “will allow us to recreate our programming, re-envision our business plan and bring history to a rebuilt New Orleans and the next generation. The Getty Foundation has been enormously generous to the rebuilding effort in the city.”
With her day-to-day responsibilities including maintenance operations, management of the houses, managing the staff and reporting to the board of directors, Gasperecz has set a long list of goals for the next year including: integrating educational programming, offering a more comprehensive interpretation of life in New Orleans during the mid-1880s (the period of the houses), educating visitors about the legacy and ongoing efforts of the The Women’s Exchange and of course, disaster planning.
What’s next? Since she started this position on Aug. 1, Gasperecz is focused on her goals; she also reminds schools, visitors and readers to visit them in the French Quarter and loves that through this position, she “can be part of the past and the future at the same time.” – M.P.
Gerry Cvitanovich, M.D.
Owner, East Jefferson After Hours Urgent Care Center; Founder, Millennium Healthcare Management
Gerry Cvitanovich, M.D., says he’s “on call” seven days a week. He’s a husband, father of four and founder of Millennium Healthcare Management, which develops and managers Urgent Care and Occupational Medicine Centers. The network currently consists of East Jefferson After Hours Urgent Care Centers in Metairie and Kenner (which Cvitanovich owns), Pelican Urgent Care in Harahan and Gulf Coast Urgent Care/OccMed Center on the West Bank. Millennium also manages centers in Lafayette and Plaquemines Parish and is exploring opportunities in Texas and other areas.
Centers are open as late as 11 p.m. on weekdays and 6:30 p.m. on weekends. “This service is critically needed post-Katrina due to the lack of access to emergency care in the metro area,” he says.
Cvitanovich (who is the son of the well known restaurateur Drago Cvitanovich) worked as a physician for 10 years in the emergency department at East Jefferson General Hospital. (He still works as a physician for “whichever center is busy.”)
“Anticipating a national trend towards urgent care, I started the first East Jefferson After Hours in 2002,” he says.
“Employers with employees working and living throughout the metro area can use Millennium’s network to decrease lost work days by getting sick or injured employees seen immediately by a physician while avoiding the emergency room,” he says. Millennium, he believes, “provides consistency of quality care and standardized billing.”
What’s next? Gulf Coast, which is a joint venture with Ochsner Health System, will be opening new locations on St. Charles Avenue as well as on the Northshore within the next few months. Cvitanovich also looks forward to “spending as much time as possible” with his wife and children. – S.R.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker; Cast Glass Artist; Fitness Instructor
Lisa Tahir glows with positive energy and it’s no wonder – she has a private practice (NOLA Therapy) as a licensed clinical social worker, she’s a fitness instructor and she has established Tahir Enterprises LLC as a professional cast glass artist – she’s consistently finding success in all her ventures.
Her goal last year was to take on “four huge projects.” Her exhibition at Palma Gallery consisted of four internally illuminated glass and steel towers that took a year to create. (She designs, fabricates and installs custom projects for commercial and residential settings.) At the same time, she completed a permanent installation at the Kingfish Lounge in the Capitol Park Hilton Hotel in Baton Rouge, hanging and installing long strands of colored glass curtains that cover every wall of the bar.
Tahir also created works for clients in New Orleans and in Baton Rouge, plus she worked with Angola prisoners conducting weekly group psychotherapy.
Tahir admits she had to talk herself into developing the confidence to accomplish her goals. “I shifted my focus from what I lack to identifying what I want instead. The resulting positive experiences have motivated me to infuse my psychotherapy clients and art with this knowledge and awareness.”
What’s next? “I want to create a hot glass facility in the Riverbend area to work with my clients using glass casting as a healing modality,” Tahir says. “While I’m not using the studio, I want local glass artists to teach the neighborhood kids how to work with glass. I’d like a community type glass center that’s also my personal and professional space.” – S.R.
Managing Partner, Republic New Orleans and Le Phare
If you’re tired of the typical New Orleans bar scene then Robert LeBlanc, managing partner of Republic New Orleans and Le Phare is your man. While Republic is a larger nightclub where you’re as likely to see a fashion show as the next “it girl,” it’s also quickly making a name for itself as New Orleans’ premier independent rock venue. The recently opened Le Phare, on the other hand, is a more relaxed, intimate location where you can expect to meet a “progressive community of forward-thinking people who are all very passionate about New Orleans.”
LeBlanc says that he and his partners “wanted to create an entertainment company and spaces that would be relevant in post-Katrina New Orleans.” Starting a record label just out of college, which morphed into a “marketing and branding strategy firm,” that eventually evolved into what is now represented as Republic and Le Phare, the recently married LeBlanc says that, “the reality is that I got here through the help and support of a bunch of companies and entities that have helped and supported me all along the way.”
Though LeBlanc says that his biggest challenge of the last year “was really just getting Republic open in a very uncertain economic environment and without a tremendous amount of knowledge of how to operate an entertainment venue,” he caught the eye of his alma mater and was named Loyola University College of Business’ Young Alumnus of the Year.
What’s next? LeBlanc wants to create a “New Orleans-based company that expands into the rest of the country and the world … to prove that New Orleans is a city that’s rich with talent and that New Orleanians can compete anywhere.” – M.P.
Executive News Director, WWL-TV
Chris Slaughter became executive news director for WWL-TV in May 2007, after 31 years with the station. “It has been on-the-job training for decades,” he muses. When his predecessor Sandy Breland left, a nationwide search was launched; it turned out the best man for the job was already home, though he modestly admits he’s still getting used to it.
“[Breland] was a fantastic news director and we had to make sure all the bases were covered. I am just about ready to say I met my goal … but not just yet.”
A typical day now begins with morning editorial meetings, led by Slaughter, during which the station decides upon stories to cover throughout the day. He also works on strategic planning, addressing administrative tasks and of course, “any thing else that pops up.”
WWL has won the “Triple Crown” of local news awards – the Peabody Award, the Edward R. Murrow national award and an Alfred Dupont award for Katrina coverage. “It’s unusual and noteworthy when a local station sweeps those awards – we’re grateful and humbled,” he says. Now he’s been dealing with the transition and implementing necessary changes.
What’s next? Slaughter will continue to fill open positions with the “top quality talent” that viewers expect. “We get it,” he says of WWL. “It’s all about New Orleans – not just the city but the entire Southeastern Louisiana region … If you’ve been here long enough to truly embrace our special zest for life, you understand.” – S.R.
Jewelry Designer: The Nancy Parker Collection; News Anchor, Fox 8
In addition to gracing nightly television screens, Fox 8 news anchor Nancy Parker has launched a jewelry collection. “I’ve worked in news for more than two decades and thrive on it,” she says, “but I also have an artsy side that a lot of people don’t see.” She writes, plays the flute, paints furniture and is working on a series of children’s books – jewelry is her latest creative venture.
It was fortunate that she met the owner and designer of Blue Alligator Designs, Terry Becnel. “She liked my sense of style – the stones I was drawn to – and had noticed the pieces I wear on the air,” says Parker.
The two attended gem shows together and it wasn’t long before The Nancy Parker Collection was launched.
Parker has always been drawn to bold jewelry. “I select stones that I think are stunning and rich in texture and color,” she says. “The beauty of the line is that no two pieces are alike because they’re products of nature.”
The mother of three doesn’t get too much spare time but when she does, it’s put to good use. “Early mornings and late nights are my quiet time,” she explains. “That’s when I try to put my creative side to work.”
What’s next? “I’ve had a lot of success in news and I love my day job,” Parker says. “But whether it’s writing or designing jewelry I hope the artsy side of me can flourish as well.” Parker’s designs are sold at Blue Alligator Designs in the Riverwalk and Canal Place. – S.R.
Voodoo specialists are hard to find these days, but when the subject is the Voodoo Music Experience, Concert Producer Stephen Rehage is the smoking candle. Rehage has used his promotional expertise not just to put acts on a stage but also to parlay that into raising money for charities including one of his favorite causes, the Revlon Walk for Breast Cancer. Asked to name one of his major accomplishments from the past year he answers, “convincing all four members of Rage Against the Machine that after a seven year hiatus, they had something to say in, and about, the current situation in New Orleans.” Rehage’s message is in the music he produces. The former Louisiana State University linebacker now sees himself as being a part of a much larger team: “The New Orleans community that is dedicated to showing the world that we are still open for business, still the home of the world’s greatest musicians, and a place that still needs help.”
What’s next? Voodoo Music Experience. Oct. 26-28. – E.L.
Executive Director, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
As the new Executive Director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (HCC), Darlene Kattán says she jokingly compares herself to Coca-Cola, “because wherever you go, you see me.” Kattán made the transition form the HCC’s volunteer board to being the organization’s full-time head of staff when the position was vacated after Katrina, “I am very committed to making a difference,” she says. “I’ve met some ordinary yet truly remarkable human beings doing amazing things. I often feel that Katrina has brought out the best in us. I look forward to meeting a lot more ‘beautiful hearts.’” Her initial efforts on the job have included working with the Jefferson Parish School Board and Southeastern University to start a training center for Hispanics who advise in business, education or social services. “We are the first programs of its kind in the U.S. and we have exceeded our experiences. There are waiting lists for our services.” When asked what in particular she would like readers to know, Kattán answers that she’s grateful to her family and friends for their support and that she’s honored to be working with the members of the Hispanic Chamber’s Board. She also adds one more vital piece of information: “I love to go Hispanic dancing.”
What’s next? Kattán says it’s time for “a much needed study of the impact of Hispanics in our area.” – E.L.
Artist; Glass Art Instructor; Glass Studio Technician
Greg Geniusz takes chances. The Ohio native was attending the Glass Art Society Conference when he met Tulane glass professor Gene Koss, who inspired him to attend the university’s graduate program. Geniusz came to New Orleans to “begin working in a glass studio I had never seen before and learn from a sculptor I barely knew. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
Geniusz has since honed his skills in a variety of mediums. He makes vases, fluted bowls, sculptures, ornaments and drinking glasses as well as metal and glass sculpture and dog bowls. (He’s a doting dog owner to Dali and Iggy.) He also paints, draws and works in metal.
In the past year, Geniusz believes he has developed a more optimistic outlook that has allowed him to move forward in the years following Hurricane Katrina.
One of his biggest challenges was losing his studio in the Marigny where he had created most of his mixed media sculptures.
He was faced with the difficult but rewarding task of creating 800 commissioned glass-blown ornaments for the Windsor Court Hotel, which he completed in just three weeks. Another project that sticks out in his mind was his creation of an urn for a couple’s cremated dog. Geniusz took their request to heart and says proudly that they were “extremely happy” with the result.
What’s next? Besides football season, “I would like to continue to improve my glassblowing skills, learn more about glass equipment building and become more independent and self sufficient as an artist.” Geniusz plans to one day open a personal glass studio and metal fabrication shop. “I am always looking forward to opportunities and challenges life has to offer.” – S.R.
Director of Art Programs, Contemporary Art Center; Director, “Prospect 1,” New Orleans
Coming from his position as senior curator at large at New York’s New Museum of Contemporary Art, one might think that Dan Cameron, Contemporary Art Center’s (CAC) new director of art programs as of May 1, would find himself less busy in the Big Easy than in the Big Apple. But au contraire, “I’m in charge of CAC’s exhibitions as of this coming fall and also [in charge] of a big international exhibition, called ‘Prospect 1,’ coming to New Orleans in October 2008.” Cameron plans for Prospect 1 to be a citywide, three-month, multimillion-dollar international art exhibition bringing together around 75 international artists. “My primary goal for the last year was to develop the infrastructure [for ‘Prospect 1’],” Cameron says. “I think I’m 80 percent there.”
This self described “inveterate concert-, opera- and play-goer” was the curator for the 1995 New Orleans Triennial exhibition at New Orleans Museum of Art. He has written extensively on contemporary art including pieces published in Art & Auction, Arts magazine and Art Forum and lectured widely in museums and universities worldwide. He adds that, “The international art world is very excited about coming to New Orleans next year, so anybody in town who wants to strut their stuff for that crowd will find a captive audience that really does like to watch.”
What’s next? Other than preparing for “Prospect 1,” Cameron says, “Fall is always the time for beginnings. The new exhibition and music season makes me feel like one’s cultural life rejuvenates according to the same cycles as nature.” – M.P.
Warner L. Thomas
President and Chief Operating Officer, Ochsner Health System
Recently, Warner L. Thomas, president and COO of Ochsner Health System was integral in establishing a joint pilot program with M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in order to share electronic communication on patients treated by both centers. This resulted in improved consistency of care across both institutions and to serve as a model for possible integration nationwide. Thomas, a certified public accountant (CPA) believes that, “regardless of what type of business you’re in, it’s essential to have a strong financial background in order to serve as an effective leader.” This background in finance and administration has been essential to Thomas in the post-Katrina New Orleans healthcare system. “The key to my position,” Thomas says, “is a strong focus on developing and coaching people who assist others in becoming better leaders. We’re in the people business and without great people, we will not be successful.”
Having obtained his goal for last year, the successful negotiation to acquire three local hospitals (formerly Kenner Regional, Memorial Medical Center and Meadowcrest Hospital) and to integrate them into the Ochsner organization, Thomas is excited about the future of Ochsner Health System and New Orleans.
What’s next? On the business side, Thomas is excited about the unveiling of plans for Ochsner Baptist Medical Center. In his personal life, Thomas believes, “Every day we have an opportunity to make a difference in our city, our organization and in the people around us. We need to seize these opportunities and make them a reality.” – M.P.
New Orleans Photo Alliance
Pictured: Vice President of Programming, Michel Varisco; Co-founder, Vice President of Development, Bryce Lankard; President, Owen Murphy Jr.; and Secretary, Jennifer Shaw
The New Orleans Photo Alliance is a nonprofit photography oriented organization created to benefit the community. This past December, they organized their first show, “PhotoNola: A Month of Photography in New Orleans,” which featured 40 photography exhibitions and events throughout New Orleans. “We have made a splash with exhibitions large and small,” Co-founder and Vice President of Development Bryce Lankard says. “We have seen a rise in the attention that has been given to photography; we’ve motivated a community and watched our membership grow.”
The Alliance recently created “Moments in Time: New Orleans at the Crossroads” which received a great deal of press while appearing at a jazz festival in Tarragona, Spain and many members were part of the “Visions Nouvelle Orléans” exhibition in Paris. They also received a grant from the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation.
“The membership of this group is amazing, generous and creative,” Vice President of Programming Michel Varisco says. “Everyone is pushing to expand their skills, their visions and their reach both within New Orleans and outside of the city.”
President Owen Murphy wants members and New Orleanians to “make a difference by doing something positive and sweep complacency and indifference out the door.”
What’s next? “I’m looking forward to December when the second annual ‘PhotoNola’ will take place,” Secretary Jennifer Shaw says. There will be a photography portfolio night at the New Orleans Museum of Art on Dec. 5, a Keith Carter workshop at The Darkroom, a weekend of Portfolio Reviews, a street fair, lectures, panel discussions and exhibitions at galleries throughout the city. – M.P.
Larry Hollier, M.D.
Chancellor, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center; Dean, Louisiana State University School of Medicine
Holding the double title of Chancellor, Louisiana State University (LSU) Health Sciences Center in New Orleans and Dean, LSU School of Medicine has put Larry Hollier in the center of the biggest recovery operation any doctor is likely to ever face – that of post-Katrina New Orleans. The former chief operating officer of the Mount Sinai hospital in New York City was credited with leading that hospital in a $150 million turnaround. Those skills would become handy as he worked to dig the LSU health system out of the huge Katrina-induced shortfall. Besides looking for funding, Hollier has also been busy searching for faculty. To keep faculty, Hollier has taken extraordinary steps. While in exile in Baton Rouge after the storm, Hollier arranged for a Baltic ferry from Finland to dock in Baton Rouge so as to provide housing for students and faculty. Add “Captain” to his list of titles.
What’s next? “The construction of a new academic training hospital in downtown New Orleans to replace Charity hospital,” Hollier says. – E.L.
Executive Director, Young Leadership Council
Amy Boyle is the executive director of the Young Leadership Council (YLC), which focuses on leadership development of young professionals through community projects and civic engagement. She works with several volunteers – many of the YLC’s current projects include a number of collaborative initiatives with groups such as the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation, and the Hoffman Triangle Coalition (in Central City, one of the current neighborhood renaissance focus areas). Her job entails “constant communication,” she says.
Fortunately, she’s got the talent and experience for that. Boyle spent 10 years as a specialist in marketing, advertising and public relations. Last year, she worked for J. Walter Thompson – a national advertising agency. But while she traveled for work, all the New Orleans native could think about was what was happening in her hometown. Always active in the community, she served on the board of directors for the YLC and “my goal became landing this job,” she says. “So I could work on the rebuilding full time with an organization that had a seat at the proverbial table and could make a difference … It’s these people – the dedicated people of our city who have made a difference – that inspire me and affirm my decision to be here and involved in the renaissance of a great American city.”
What’s next? “I want to be able to say that YLC has a project that impacts every aspect of the recovery in New Orleans.” She also wants to end the year raising more money than in 2006. “I always want to grow our base so we can continue to do more and more in the community.” – S.R.
Actor; Co-owner, Hazelnut; Activist
You may recognize Bryan Batt from his numerous Broadway appearances (including the role of Lumiere in Beauty and the Beast), as the co-owner of Hazelnut (a fine gift and home furnishings store on Magazine Street) and now as art director Salvatore Romano on the new hit TV series “Mad Men” airing Thursday evenings on AMC. Batt, in his own words, has become “tri-coastal,” flying between New York (for theater), New Orleans and Los Angeles (where “Mad Men” films). In New Orleans at his store Hazelnut, Batt and his partner and co-owner Tom Cianfichi, with Peggy their Boston terrier, have found great success with their signature New Orleans Toile fabric and products, which helped benefit Second Harvest Food Bank. They are now looking for another triumph with their new, brighter fabric, Pontchartrain Beach (Batt’s family owned the former lakefront amusement park) – of which a portion of the sales will benefit Children’s Hospital.
Activism is very important to Batt and he currently serves on two boards: NO/AIDS Task Force and Le Petit Théatre du Vieux Carré. With all of his accomplishments, Batt says he “was most honored to receive the Human Rights Campaign’s Equality Award this year.”
What’s next? Batt plans to continue his juggling act of running Hazelnut, acting and helping local and civic organizations but what is he really looking forward to? “V.A.C.A.T.I.O.N.!” – M.P.
Colonel Alvin B. Lee
District Commander, Engineer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New Orleans
Col. Alvin “Al” B. Lee was initiated in July as the 60th district engineer in the New Orleans district, rendering him responsible for a district which, in tandem with the Hurricane Protection Office, is working on appropriations exceeding $7 billion for hurricane restoration. The New Orleans District’s jurisdiction includes 2,800 miles of waterways, 1,300 miles of levees and floodwalls and a variety of other projects to create and restore coastal wetlands.
“My experience, past assignments and manner of performances in those positions qualified me to be selected to command the New Orleans District,” he says. Lee previously served in the Corps in places including Alaska, Colorado, South Carolina and Afghanistan, where he won a Bronze Star Metal for his services.
“I’m honored to take command of the New Orleans district,” Lee says. “My family and I are excited to be here and we look forward to serving the people of this great community.”
What’s next? “I want to work hard to gain the trust and confidence of the stakeholders in this community,” Lee says. “I plan to have a very transparent organization that will focus on a ‘team of teams’ approach in which the citizens are part of the team. I plan to enhance communications, strengthen partnerships and execute the commitments that have been made to the citizens of New Orleans for the new hurricane protection and storm damage reduction system.” – S.R.
The owner and creator of Cat Wall Makeup is probably the most famous person in New Orleans of whom you’ve never heard. Her versatile makeup style and technical skills have firmly established her reputation as an industry leader and her 14 years of experience as a makeup artist for print, runway and film have made her the go-to makeup artist for many in the industry – including news anchor Brian Williams. Her client list includes President George W. Bush, Mystikal, O Magazine, Nicole Miller, Pepsi and Debi Mazar among many, many others.
As a child, Wall was always playing with her mother’s makeup and remembers being “fascinated by the colors and how the products felt in [her] hands.” After completing law school and feeling less than enthusiastic about it as a profession, she took at job at a department store in Dallas working for a big cosmetics line. “Standing, waiting for sales bored me so I began grabbing anyone who walked by to put makeup on,” Wall says. “It wasn’t long until I had built quite a following.” Soon after, a regular client gave Wall’s name to her fashion photographer brother and months later he called her as a last minute replacement – which “changed my life and career path,” she says.
What’s next? Wall has a dream of starting “a solid, respected agency that’s specific to makeup and hair artists in New Orleans.” She adds, “I would love to see the artists here treated more credibly like crews in Los Angeles and New York.” Oh, and winning an Academy Award, “Hey, a girl can have a fantasy!” – M.P.
Head Football Coach, Tulane University
In a town of football fanatics (and that’s an understatement) Bob Toledo may be the next hero. He’s the new head coach for the Tulane Green Wave and he’s setting high goals for himself and the team. His experience isn’t shabby either – he’s coached for more than 30 years at various universities including UCLA and New Mexico. Toledo says his goal is to lead the Green Wave to a conference championship and a bowl game. Since December 2006 when he was named as Tulane’s head coach, he’s been busying himself on and off the field.
The California native says his days consist of planning and organizing meetings with other coaches and players, leading practice and ultimately, games. He’s also a coach who values education – “I counsel and discipline student-athletes in athletic and academic achievements,” he says. “I’ve been concentrating on everything from presenting prospective student-athletes with all that there is to offer at Tulane University; coaching and training the student-athletes on the team, my staff and personnel to my way of doing things. I feel we’ve come a long way.”
He also has been working with various media in order to promote a positive image of Tulane and its student-athletes.
What’s next? He’ll get the Wave rolling all right. The self-proclaimed husband, father and grandfather of the year says with confidence that he’s looking forward to “winning and going bowling.” – S.R.
The Son also Rises
For Chad Shinn his dad’s team and his new hometown are both part of his future
By: Chris Price
As heir apparent to the New Orleans Hornets, Chad Shinn is living a life most young men only dream of living. When he was seven, his father, George Shinn, was awarded an NBA franchise. Chad grew up hanging around the team’s practice facility, rubbing elbows with basketball’s biggest stars. When his father moved the team from Charlotte, N.C., to the Crescent City in 2002, Shinn dumped his dream of playing golf on the PGA Tour. He moved to New Orleans where he has been learning the intricacies of running his father’s business and preparing himself to eventually take over. (The two other Shinn Siblings are Chris, a rock and roller based in Los Angeles who is the lead vocalist for the Chris Shinn Band and Susan who owns an “eco/organic baby and maternity boutique” in Laguna Beach, Calif.)
“I’ve been living a dream,” says Shinn, who is now the franchise’s executive officer of the board. “I’ve always loved basketball and my dad bought a team when I was a kid. I was the biggest fan and now I’ve got the opportunity to one day be in control of the team. It’s an amazing realization and responsibility,” he says. “I’m very fortunate. I pinch myself all the time.”
While Shinn, 27, seems to be living the dream life, his career with the Hornets has been anything but. He began with the team’s basketball operations, where he worked with everyone including the general manager and the equipment manager. The plan was for him to progressively move from basketball operations into business operations to get a full understanding of how each division operates but when Hurricane Katrina forced an unexpected relocation to Oklahoma City, his progression was hastened. He was promoted to an executive level position and put in charge of Team 504, the Hornets’ committee tasked with helping the business and its employees establish homes in the New Orleans area. He has endured a trial by fire since.
“I haven’t been dealing with normal issues related to running the team,” Shinn says. “I’ve been dealing with relocation issues for the past two years. It’s only now that I’m getting into the day-to-day operations. I’m learning the business side, what it takes to run a franchise – the whole scheme of things.”
The Hornets spent three years in the Crescent City with mixed success before Katrina forced the team’s relocation. Many experts thought the team would never return once it left.
“When we talked about coming back nobody believed it would happen,” Shinn says. “They saw the success we had in Oklahoma and it was hard for them to believe. We had to be consistent in our message that New Orleans is home and we were coming back.”
In that time, the Hornets had to move their business operations, hire new employees and walk a fine line of remaining viable by establishing a fan base in a temporary location while not alienating fans at home. Luckily for the Crescent City, Shinn is a major advocate for New Orleans.
“The city was definitely part of my decision to get involved in the organization when I did,” Shinn says. “Ever since I first moved here, it’s grown on me. I fell in love with New Orleans right off the bat. It’s so unique … the food, the culture and music. When we had to move I was devastated. But now, being back in my house, at home, sleeping in my own bed, I couldn’t be happier. Everybody’s starting to get in their houses and unpack. It feels great.”
It was his idea to have a week of training camp and six home games, including the first game of the season, in New Orleans last year. It was a marketing masterstroke that helped keep local interest in a team playing 725 miles from home. The Hornets achieved a financial milestone when the franchise grossed more than $1 million on a single game (against the Lakers) played in New Orleans last season.
“That happens in New York, L.A. and Chicago, but we’d never done it until then,” Shinn says. “It happened here in New Orleans. It can be done. It’s inspired us going into the season. We feel like we’ve got support here and we want to grow it.”
He’s confident the Hornets will have success in New Orleans.
“Major league franchises are crucial to the city and New Orleanians have proved they will support them. Both teams are staying,” he says, referring to the Hornets and the Saints. “That’s going to bring a lot of money into the region, not to mention all the [recovery] money about to be poured in here anyway,” he says. “It’s a city of great opportunity for any young businessman or woman to invest in and take advantage of. It’s a great opportunity.”
Shinn says the team’s biggest challenge this year will be re-connecting with fans.
“Right before the hurricane we were starting to connect with people. We felt like we were becoming New Orleans’ team. For the first few years we were still viewed as Charlotte’s team. Now we’re fighting to be New Orleans’ team again,” he says.
While the upcoming season will no doubt be challenging, the Hornets have several reasons to be excited. First, this year’s team should compete for a playoff birth and will be much better than the 18-64 team that played the last full season in New Orleans. Second, about half of the team’s home games are on weekends, which should translate into larger crowds and gate and concessions receipts. Additionally, New Orleans will host the 2008 NBA All-Star Game this spring, bringing global media attention to the Crescent City once again.
“We’ve got an outstanding team. They’re passionate and they want to win,” Shinn says. “We’re going to surprise people.”