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People to Watch
New Orleans is known for traditions, so it only seems fitting that the magazine that carries the city’s name must have traditions too. Our longest-lasting, tracing in various forms to the early ’80s, is People to Watch. Who are these folks? People to watch, as we see them, are either those who have not received much publicity but who will be doing something new and different within the next year, or those who might be well-known but whose career will be expanding. In making our selections, we first ran an announcement asking readers to make suggestions. We also queried people with expertise in various professional fields. The final selection was made by the editorial staff. Are we claiming that these are the definitive people to watch? There are thousands of people doing new and interesting things. This is just a sampling. But watch them closely. Big things may be happening. Who did we miss? Let us know. Send us a Letter to the Editor c/o New Orleans Magazine, 111 Veterans Blvd., Suite 1800, Metairie, LA 70005 or firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, letters are subject to editing for brevity and clarity.
Reporter/anchor, WWL-News Channel 4
Her native’s eye for the quirky New Orleans story gives WWL-TV reporter Lucy Bustamante a distinct edge over other young journalists who’ve relocated here to work in the city’s newsrooms.
“There’s a different sense of familiarity and access to knowledge when you report in the town you call your home,” says Bustamante, who graduated from Loyola in 2002 and worked briefly for a station in Mobile before moving home earlier this year.
The bilingual daughter of a Spanish mother and a Cuban father, Bustamante also points to her fluency in Spanish and knowledge of the city’s thriving Latino community as an asset in spotting untold local stories.
“Reaching out to people who normally might feel uncomfortable telling a story to a stranger allows me to tap into parts of the community that others might not be able to,” she says. “I have the advantage when I can understand and cover news in a growing population.”
Henry Aragon Musician
Henry Aragon’s dream is to assemble the nation’s first Hispanic chamber orchestra, the Orquesta de Camara Hispana de New Orleans (OCHNO), a New Orleans-based ensemble dedicated to Baroque compositions, jazz melodies and Latin American folk songs from his native Honduras.
The viola-playing Aragon has already put together a local string quartet composed of Latino musicians, the first step in recruiting what he hopes will be a 15-member orchestra.
“An Hispanic chamber orchestra will bring pride to the Latin American community in New Orleans,” says Aragon, who studies music at LSU after having received the Kenneth Klaus Viola Scholarship last year.
Aragon, who has lived off and on in New Orleans for about a year, began playing viola as a high school student in Honduras, and has performed with renowned musicians, including Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma and Ray Charles.
Mike Neu Head coach, New Orleans VooDoo
In his inaugural season as head coach of the New Orleans VooDoo, Mike Neu led his team to an impressive 11-5 season, winning the Arena Football League’s Southern Region title and driving scores of sports fans to the New Orleans Arena to see a new brand of fast-paced, in-your-face football.
To top the season, the 31-year-old Neu in June was named the AFL Coach of the Year, selected by fellow coaches, fans via online voting, members of the Arena Football League Writers Association and AFL players.
The former Ball State quarterback and former coach of the AFL Carolina Cobras says the coming VooDoo season, which begins in February, will be even more exciting for football fans than the first season.
“I plan to take our team even further,” says Neu, who assisted the Saints special teams coaching staff during the team’s preseason training camp. “We’re going to improve on our record, advance further into the playoffs and hopefully win an arena bowl championship this year.”
Dr. Alex Johnson, Chancellor, Delgado Community College
Since arriving in New Orleans last February, Dr. Alex Johnson has embraced one of the city’s cardinal truths: Success in this town is built on relationships.
To that end, Johnson has spent much of his first seven months as chancellor of Delgado Community College creating new and bolstering existing partnerships between the school and community groups, government agencies and local businesses.
“Partnering with business and industry helps us to identify the region’s workforce needs and the available people for those jobs, provide the training, and then help fill open and new positions with qualified, skilled workers,” says Johnson.
Johnson says he plans to expand these relationships “to enhance the skills of our students so they are well-prepared and productive citizens,” whether they are entering the workforce or going on to four-year universities.
A native New Yorker with a Ph.D. in education, Johnson came to New Orleans via Cleveland, where he was president of Metropolitan Campus of Cuyahoga Community College.
Rev. Kevin Wildes, President, Loyola University
He’s just settling into the university and the city, but incoming Loyola President Rev. Kevin Wildes is already considering how he’ll communicate the university’s evolving mission and vision to both returning and new students.
“This is a very strong institution that wants to be even stronger,” says Wildes, an expert in medical ethics who has taught at Loyola College in Maryland, University of Houston and Georgetown University Medical Center. “I plan to bring a renewed sense of energy and hope.”
Wildes will continue his involvement with bioethics, as both a speaker and a writer, and is currently at work on a related book and several articles. He also plans to perform service for local health care organizations, something he has done in other cities.
“My goal is to develop the kind of leadership that will help the university achieve its vision,” says Wildes, who will live in an on-campus residence hall. “I’m very excited about the future.”
Mat Wolf, Chef, Gautreau’s
Named this year as one of America’s best new chefs by Food and Wine magazine, Seattle-born Mat Wolf was lauded by the national publication as an energetic and enthusiastic chef who “finds fresh potential in New Orleans food traditions.”
For Gautreau’s regulars, praise for the bespectacled Wolf comes as no surprise: The contemporary bistro is consistently rated among the best in New Orleans, and Wolf’s approach to Creole cuisine is widely regarded as one of the city’s most innovative.
Wolf’s résumé includes a turn at Seattle’s top-rated Flying Fish restaurant, where he cooked before moving to New Orleans to work alongside the late Jamie Shannon at Commander’s Palace.
His success as a culinary genius does have its drawbacks, however. “My mom refuses to cook for me,” says Wolf, who regularly conducts cooking demos at the Crescent City Farmers Market. “She just doesn’t realize how much I love her carrot stew.”
Earl Turner, Entertainer, Harrah’s New Orleans
He comes to New Orleans following a successful multiyear run in Las Vegas, where he was named the city’s best male vocal performer. But new Harrah’s headliner Earl Turner says he’s ready for the transition to the South.
“I hope to bring recognition to both the show and to Harrah’s as an entertainment entity as wonderful as the city of New Orleans itself,” says Turner, who performs in the casino’s recently opened, 500-seat Earl Turner Theater.
Turner’s show includes a wide-ranging mix of classic Motown and country, rock ‘n’ roll, and rhythm-and-blues, and is backed up by an eight-piece band that the singer put together himself.
Turner’s band includes four local musicians whom the entertainer says will “show some of the great musical talent” the city has to offer.
Maura Donahue, Vice-chairman, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
This year continues to be the year of the woman in Louisiana, with the recent selection of Maura Donahue as the vice-chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the first woman and the first Louisianian to hold that position.
Donahue, who is the president of the Mandeville-based construction company DonahueFavret Contractors Inc., is also a board member of Greater New Orleans Inc., which replaced the New Orleans local chamber of commerce last year.
As vice-chairman of the U.S. Chamber, Donahue will automatically assume the organization’s leadership position as chairman next year, which strategically positions her to attract new business opportunities to the state. She has been a member of the organization since 1998.
The U.S. Chamber is the world’s largest nonprofit business federation and represents 3 million business nationwide, nearly 3,000 state and local chambers, and more than 800 business associations.
Bob Noonan, News director, WGNO-TV/Channel 26
He was hired in March to improve the news product, pick up morale and increase the ratings at WGNO-TV. By the end of his first ratings period in May, news director Bob Noonan (whose previous employment was in the newsroom at WVUE-tv/Channel 8) was satisfied that he had accomplished all three.
In the highly competitive world of local broadcast news, two of Noonan’s evening newscasts had jumped a full percentage point among key demographics – a spike in ratings that many news directors can only dream about.
“My team showed it can win,” says the Peabody-award-winning Noonan, a former filmmaker who spent much of his news career in smaller markets throughout Mississippi. “This is a really big deal.”
Noonan says the secret to his station’s success is an experienced news team with what he describes as “a special love for New Orleans.” But don’t count out Noonan’s own competitive spirit.
“My goal is to win every story, every newscast, every day,” says Noonan. “I oversee a special staff, and we have a team that is hungry to win.”
Meg Lousteau , Executive director, Louisiana Landmarks Society
“It’s easy to take preservation for granted in a city like New Orleans,” says Meg Lousteau, appointed in January as the first executive director of the nonprofit Louisiana Landmarks Society, a preservation advocacy organization.
“We have so many old buildings and fascinating neighborhoods that sometimes the loss of a seemingly plain house or the insertion of an out-of-scale building doesn’t register as a threat.”
But for Lousteau, value is not only in the individual buildings themselves; rather, it’s in the tout ensemble, what the Mobile-born, architect-by-training calls the “urban fabric of our built environment.”
First on her list of goals is to alter the public perception of the concept of preservation, teaching the community the value of preserving historic sites, neighborhoods and landmarks.
“It’s often said that the trinity of our city is food, music and architecture,” says Lousteau. “But while you can whip up a gumbo in Topeka and hear a brass band in Los Angeles, you cannot export or re-create the buildings and neighborhoods of New Orleans.”
Capt. Mark Blace, Commander of U.S. Coast Guard Group, New Orleans
For Capt. Mark Blace, the newly appointed commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Group, New Orleans, the biggest challenge this year will be to balance ongoing homeland security needs with the commercial and recreational needs of the local marine community.
“The goal is to protect the port and waterways from new and emerging threats while providing the expected high level of services to mariners and boaters,” says Blace, a native Texan and Coast Guard Academy graduate who has served on NATO and UN missions throughout Europe.
Blace’s New Orleans command spans 16 sub-units throughout the Louisiana and Mississippi gulf coasts and connected wetlands, bayous and tributaries, including the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to the gulf.
And though he considers the region one of the largest, busiest and most complex coastal and port areas in the United States, he’s not having any trouble settling into his new job.
“I feel right at home,” Blace says. “This city has great people, a great attitude and great food.”
Charles Megnin, Owner, The Darkroom
New Orleans is a city filled with striking and unusual images, and Charles Megnin hopes his new venture, The Darkroom, will serve as a catalyst for would-be photographers to get out and shoot all the visuals the city has to offer.
The multifunctional Lower Garden District space serves as one part fine photo gallery, one part high-end photo lab, and one part public darkroom and workspace, where photographers can print their own artwork in traditional black-and-white or digital formats.
“Part of our mission for this year is to enhance public awareness of fine photography,” says the Paris-born Megnin. “We plan to develop a community outreach program to teach black-and-white printing to teenagers, an art form that young people find empowering.”
The workspace concept is still catching on, says Megnin. In fact, a number of passers-by have already misread the “public darkroom” signs out front – asking if they could use the public bathrooms.
Mittie Kelleher Doyle, M.D., Assistant professor of clinical medicine, Tulane University Health Sciences Center
As New Orleans grows as a Southern hub for groundbreaking medical research, Dr. Mittie Kelleher Doyle is emerging as one of the city’s leading experts in rheumatology, specializing in arthritis and other autoimmune diseases that affect mostly women.
The 39-year-old researcher and lecturer this year will open an on-campus clinic dedicated to the care and research of patients with scleroderma, a potentially life-threatening disease that affects multiple organs in the body and causes them to shut down.
Doyle is also directing an ongoing epidemiological study of a potential scleroderma cluster in Morgan City and recently received the center’s first research award at the university’s Women’s Health Research Marathon Day.
A New Orleans native, Doyle left the city when she was 17 to attend Princeton University, then Yale Medical School, and returned in 1999 so her children could be closer to her family.
“I was born at Baptist Hospital during Hurricane Hilda,” she says. “And I only narrowly escaped being named Hilda.”
Dale Atkins, Clerk of Civil District Court
She took a lead role in the election last fall of Gov. Kathleen Blanco and co-chaired Blanco’s transition team following her historic election as the state’s first female governor.
Since then, Civil District Court Clerk Dale Atkins has emerged as the local elected official closest to the governor, and political observers are anticipating her next move – perhaps a judgeship or New Orleans mayoral bid in early 2006.
Whatever she decides, it’s clear that the 46-year-old Atkins is a political powerhouse, poised to make a difference locally and nationally. She traveled in July to Boston as one of Louisiana’s delegates at the Democratic National Convention, then continued on to swing states where she registered women to vote.
“You will see that not only will we play a crucial role [in the upcoming presidential election], but we will register voters, we will mobilize them,” Atkins told the local media before leaving for Boston. “And we will get them to the polls on Nov. 2.”
Rio Hackford, Owner, One Eyed Jacks
The bad news is, over the past year, two well-loved clubs in New Orleans closed their doors: El Matador and Shim Sham Club. The good news is owner Rio Hackford closed El Matador, bought the Shim Sham location and opened his newest endeavor, One Eyed Jacks.
Now Hackford, a Los Angeles native, is able to bring in bigger bands and has the space for a larger crowd of local hipsters and the occasional clued-in tourist. “I still wanted to have some kind of music venue in town, and I still wanted somewhere to go in the Quarter since a lot of places have closed,” he says.
Hackford’s father, movie producer Taylor Hackford, likely introduced his son to the entertainment world. Not only is Rio a club owner, but he is also an actor and director. He played “Skully” in the movie “Swingers” and recently directed a music video for Supagroup.
Jessie Terrebonne, Anais Patterson, Suzanne McKamey and Julia Lashae, Yale University Cabaret Conference attendees
Summer school can be a good thing, especially for four New Orleans-area performers who in early August attended the prestigious Yale University Cabaret Conference in New Haven, Conn.
The four women – Jessie Terrebonne, Anais Patterson, Suzanne McKamey and Julia Lashae – were selected among scores of performers who auditioned in a handful of cities across the country to participate in the nine-day program, which focuses on the art of cabaret performance technique.
The women say the conference enhanced their cabaret techniques by focusing on vocal selections and vocal training, and included image consultations, panel discussions and one-on-one sessions with cabaret performers.
The conference culminated with a student performance, says Terrebonne, a cast member at Le Chat Noir’s long-running “The Black and White Blues.”
“I plan to take the performance skills I’ve learned here in New Orleans and combine them with the new ideas and techniques I learned at the conference,” she says.
Scott Hutcheson, Chief operating officer, Arts Council of New Orleans
When Louisiana ArtWorks opens at the end of September on the edge of the Warehouse Arts District, the 93,000-square-foot visual arts complex will be a first-of-its-kind arts colony and cultural destination, bridging the gap between the artist’s creative process and the public’s viewing experience.
“This is a place where people can see where creativity and inspiration truly come from,” says Scott Hutcheson, the chief operating officer of the Arts Council of New Orleans, which directed the funding, design and construction of the $26 million project.
Hutcheson says the complex was designed with both the artist and the observer in mind, with 19 individual working studios and four open shops outfitted with equipment for blacksmiths, ceramicists, glass blowers and sculptors – perfect for viewing.
“No other city celebrates life as we do in New Orleans,” says Hutcheson. “And no other destination brings to life the creative experience like this one will.”
Imagination Movers, Children’s performers
Some might consider them a New Orleans version of the hugely successful Australian children’s entertainment group, The Wiggles. But the members of Imagination Movers – Rich Collins, Scott Durbin, Dave Poche and Smitty Smith – say they are more a combination of Mr. Rogers and The Beastie Boys.
Either way, the local music group has become a national phenomenon, exporting their brand of entertainment to kids and their parents with hugely popular CDs and videos that can keep youngsters watching for hours.
The group’s Good Ideas recording was selected as best recording of the year in 2003 by the Children’s Music Web, and their single “I Want My Mommy” was at the top of the charts for seven weeks earlier this year.
Since playing their first live show in early 2003 at Mardi Gras World, the Imagination Movers have played to sellout crowds of enthusiastic kids throughout the South, including a recent packed house at UNO, where they released their latest CD, Calling All Movers.
Jachin Merrill, WDSU-TV/Channel 6 producer, 10 p.m. news
He’s been working in broadcasting since he was 12 years old, when the brass at a tiny radio station in his western Oklahoma hometown of Weatherford allowed Jachin Merrill to read parts of the news during the station’s live daily broadcasts.
Since then, the 24-year-old Merrill has covered some of the biggest stories of the past decade, including the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City and the subsequent execution of convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh.
But nothing could have prepared Merrill for the first night he dined in the French Quarter with his future boss and WDSU colleagues two years ago, when he spied a man sans clothing on a balcony across the street – and nearly choked on his soup.
The reaction of his dining companions to the unexpected sight? “Welcome to New Orleans!” From then on, says Merrill, “I knew this was the place I needed to be.”
Jon Sherman, Owner, Flavor Paper
Walls have taken on a life of their own – first with textured, brightly colored paints and now with home décor’s latest trend: custom-designed, hand-screened wallpapers such as those created in Jon Sherman’s Flavor Paper studio in the Bywater.
The lifestyle sections of both Newsweek and The New York Times have even taken notice of Sherman’s one-of-a-kind, ’70s-inspired psychedelic creations, which won this year’s best of show award at New York’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair.
Sherman’s Flavor Paper is actually the second incarnation of the original wallpaper business, which he and a group of local designers purchased last year from an Oregon man who was closing down shop.
“I rescued it from certain demise,” says Sherman, who moved every piece of the company’s heavy equipment across the country to set up shop in New Orleans.
Since then, Sherman has installed some of what he calls the world’s “funkiest hand silk-screened wallpaper” into homes across the country, including the New Orleans Creole cottage belonging to Lenny Kravitz.
Mimi Strawn, News director, WVUE-TV/Fox 8
Mimi Strawn says her goal at Fox 8 news is to bring viewers “good storytelling in a fair and compelling way.”
Appointed the station’s news director in June, Strawn had returned to New Orleans from Dallas three months earlier to take the assistant news director position.
Within weeks of her arrival in the city, Strawn’s boss announced he was taking a news position on the West Coast – and Strawn was bumped to the top job.
“I hope to bring leadership, good decision making and lead by example,” says Strawn, who graduated from Ursuline Academy and LSU before launching her broadcast journalism career at an NBC affiliate in Tulsa, Okla. “This job gives me the opportunity to lead some of the best journalists in New Orleans.”
Don Marshall, Executive director, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation
With an extensive arts administration career that has included New Orleans theater, visual arts, film and video, Don Marshall this year reached what many consider the pinnacle of the city’s cultural scene: executive director of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation.
A lifelong resident of New Orleans, UNO graduate and one-time director of the university’s arts-administration graduate program, Marshall has been a fixture in the local arts scene for several years, dating back to the mid-80s when he was executive director of Le Petit Theater.
“I plan to bring new creative ideas and energy to one of the greatest music festivals in the world,” says Marshall, who was appointed in June following a five-month search that amassed more than 100 applicants.
Marshall says he looks forward to working with what he calls a “dynamic board of directors” to promote the music and culture of the city and state.
Mike Giorlando, Athletic director/men’s basketball coach, Loyola University
For collegiate basketball coach Mike Giorlando, there’s never been a better year than 2004 to take the reins at Loyola University, where he will assume a dual role as athletic director and men’s basketball coach.
This year, for the first time in nearly 35 years, the university will offer athletic scholarships to six basketball players – three men and three women, helping to build both the program’s talent and wins this season.
The new athletic scholarships, says Giorlando, mean he can “continue to recruit and attract outstanding student athletes to Loyola,” one of his biggest priorities for the coming school year.
Giorlando, 45, spent 15 years as a basketball coach, in Division 1 collegiate level for LSU and UNO and at the high school level at various schools throughout the region. Before that, the Jesuit High School graduate was a practicing general dentist who was on staff for several years at the LSU School of Dentistry.
Matt Touchard, President/creative director, Zermatt Design
“Great design is all about communicating with unique, entertaining, relevant and, oftentimes, simple ideas,” says award-winning artist Matt Touchard, the self-described “visualizer, brand-builder, image-maker and designer” behind Luling-based Zermatt Design.
His work for such clients as Pat Benatar, Cirque du Soleil, EMI Records, V3 Salons and Scandinavia International Interiors has earned Touchard several design and video awards, including last year’s New Orleans Advertising Federation’s Gold Addy for best local TV campaign of the year and a 2004 TELLY for film and video.
Awards are nice, but the Louisiana-born Touchard sets his sights higher for the coming year: “I want to bring hysteria to the marketplace for those products that have yet to develop a soul,” using engaging creative design, visceral ideas and creative writing, he says.
“I create hallmarks for entities that have no identity, build brands that have little or no foundation and launch new ideas that the world is ready for,” he says.
Jane Scott Hodges, Founder-owner-designer, Leontine Linens Ltd.
Her gorgeous, custom-designed Leontine Linens have been featured in national publications such as House Beautiful, InStyle and Martha Stewart Living – monogrammed masterpieces made from fine fabrics.
But couture-conscious linen lovers in search of Jane Scott Hodges’ luxurious line of sheets and towels could find them only in her Uptown showroom or online via her company’s Web site.
That all changed in April, when Hodges’ plush Turkish cotton towels and handcrafted, 460-count sheets were unveiled at one of New York’s premier shopping Meccas – Bergdorf Goodman’s seventh floor – the only bed and towel brand carried by the upscale retailer.
“One of our goals for this year was to reach more customers directly,” says Hodges, a Philadelphia native and 1991 graduate of Newcomb College.
Hodges believes the ability of the customer to touch and feel her linens is essential, and something she just can’t offer through the computer. “We sell a tactile product that really requires a personal experience to sell.”
Mark C. Drennen , President and CEO, Greater New Orleans Inc.
As Gov. Mike Foster’s commissioner of administration, Mark C. Drennen was lauded in 2002 by the National Governors Association for helping Louisiana become one of the country’s “best-managed state governments.”
As recently appointed president and CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc., Drennen hopes to lend his considerable management skills to helping create as many as 30,000 new jobs in the organization’s 10-parish region over the next five years.
“I do everything from meeting with business leaders to explaining issues to elected officials,” says Drennen, who’s lived in New Orleans just since early this year after spending 30 years in other Louisiana cities. “I’ll also be doing a lot of public speaking.”
Drennen says he’ll focus on key industries to generate new jobs, including finance and health care, and plans to explore call center outreach and support.
Dominic Massa, News producer, WWL-TV/Channel 4
His day job is producing the 6 p.m. news at WWL-TV, but, in addition to news, 27-year-old New Orleans native Dominic Massa’s passions include creating hourlong cultural documentaries and other nostalgic programming for local public television, such as last summer’s “New Orleans TV: The Golden Age,” produced for WYES.
Massa, the current president of the New Orleans Press Club, is currently at work on his latest documentary surveying New Orleans TV history, this one chronicling classic TV commercials produced in the city and due out next summer.
“I have a great interest in local broadcast history,” says Massa. “These projects are ideal.”
As much as he loves the documentary work, Massa says his work at WWL is also “a dream come true,” since he grew up watching the station as a child. “I would write fan letters to the on-air personalities asking for autographs – and now we are all co-workers!”
Laurie Toups, Executive director, French Quarter Festivals Inc.
Driving local traffic to the French Quarter can be challenging, but three events produced by the non-profit French Quarter Festivals Inc. have natives flocking to the Vieux Carré at critical times of the year.
The music-inspired French Quarter Fest in the spring, Satchmo SummerFest in the heat of summer and Christmas New Orleans Style in winter showcase the city’s culture and heritage, says Laurie Toups, the organization’s new executive director.
“These events contribute to the well-being of the community and instill increased pride in the people of New Orleans,” says Toups, who grew up in New Orleans, moved away after high school then returned in 1995.
Toups says she plans to bring a fresh set of eyes to the three events, infusing her own brand of enthusiasm and passion into the overall product.
“I hope to continue the tradition of creating events that create a positive experience for the festival-goer,” she says. And judging by the burgeoning crowd at this year’s French Quarter Fest, she’s on her way.