Monday, March 22, 2010

Booth Update #1

We got to the blogging game a little late, but we wanted to share the highlights of our NOLA visit thus far. Yesterday started with a visit to the St. Bernard Project, , followed by an unplanned hour long tour of the 9th ward (lesson: bring your own directions on bus tours). The founder of the St Bernard Project welcomed us with a passionate speech about the continued need for housing in this city. After all they have been through there are still an estimated 12,500 families who are without housing. Prior to Katrina most of the families in St Bernard Parish were home owners, there was 4% unemployment and extended families all lived within a few blocks of each other. This tremendous asset became a liability when Katrina hit, as all the resources for entire families was destroyed. Having heard about this great need, we got to work on rebuilding a home. We only had a few hours, but we managed to hang some drywall and make a little progress. It was really inspiring to see the St Bernard Project’s work and the huge impact they have had on the lives of over 300 families.

You can’t come to St Bernard and not think about Katrina- evidence of it is everywhere. The homes still have the grim spray painted markings that were left by the army and National Guard searchers indicating how many bodies were found inside. Many homes are boarded up, and there are empty lots everywhere from homes that were torn down. Amongst this damage are beautifully restored homes that have no sign of damage.

After using our MBA finance skills to hang drywall, we used the other half of our degree at a Sustainable Greenbuild house networking event. Outside of the delicious Cajun jumbalaya, the “write on your hand photo event” was the undisputed high point.

What is that, you’re thinking? Here’s how the process worked: (1) Have someone write your desired message for New Orleans across the palm of your hands (2) Enter a small white room converted into a temporary photo studio (3) Awkardly (speaking for myself) stand in front of light, put your newly inked hands extremely close to your face, and send off your message with a smile.

Both participatory art and party activity, this photo event united us through our shared messages of hope and progress for New Orleans. Even though one or our photo-shy team members twice deviously evaded the pressure to sully his hands, most people appreciated the activity à recommend for replication at future events.

In the evening, we gathered at Café Reconcile for dinner. Amazing food and we got to really gather as a team for the first time. Here I have to brag that the Booth team is lucky enough to have the best entrepreneur- Darren is a musician, entrepreneur, a Macrobiotic (you know- ying, yang, salt, sugar) and all around great guy. We took our team out to one of the city’s best jazz clubs and heard a great set played by Jason Marsalis and band. Sitting in the balcony, sipping a Ribbeta Strawberry beer was the quintessential NO experience.

Monday Morning:

We gathered at 7:15 to head to the Contemporary Arts Center. The unseasonably cold weather persisted, making us feel like we never left Chicago.

The events started at the new Contemporary Art Center in downtown New Orleans, a massive building full of open concrete plans, curving stairwells and exposed ductwork. I didn’t see any of the art, but I hope it is as cool as the building.

Walter Isaacson, CEO of the Aspen Institute/New Orleans Native. A man with both a local and global vision, he focused his speech on the role of entrepeneurship in revitalizing New Orleans. He highlighted Katrina’s role in reawakening the city’s creative roots, causing the city to cast off the tradition of returning to a post-hurricane ‘malaise.’ A TFA board member, he was particularly enamored by viral growth of charter schools in the New Orleans Area, as the city moves towards having one of the most decentralized school districts in the country. He now (jokingly) suggests that ailing cities get their own hurricane to help them start over again. (I wouldn’t suggest repeating that unless you’re from New Orleans.) He also discussed the uniquely creative New Orlienean culture. One of the more racially integrated cities, New Orleans history and present as a place of where cultures clash, New Orleans is a natural home for new ideas and creative industries.

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