Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Louisiana Artist Brings Post-Katrina [Blue Dog] Relief to New Orleans

The Company
Rodrigue Studio Aspen
635 E. Cooper St.
Aspen, CO 81611
Phone: [970] 920-7726

Rodrigue Studio Carmel
6th Ave. and Dolores
POB S-3214
Carmel, CA 93921
Phone: [831] 626-4444

Rodrigue Studio Lafayette
1434 S. College Rd.
Lafayette, LA 70503
Phone: [337] 233-3274

Rodrigue Studio New Orleans
721 Royal Street
New Orleans, LA 70116
Phone: [504] 581-4244

Founded: 1989
Employees: 14 [including all four studio/gallery locations]

Contact: George Rodrigue, Owner info@bluedogrelief.com

The Business
Rodrigue Studio sells paintings, prints, sculptures and jewelry created by George Rodrigue, prolific artist-author-altruist who was born in New Iberia, La., some 135 miles from New Orleans, 62 years ago. While his subjects include a vast variety of landscape settings and people, perhaps Rodrigue is most famous for his iconic Blue Dog -- the distinct, yellow-eyed character that appears in diverse formal and informal scenes.

Rodrigue's work has been shown in individual, group and retrospective exhibitions throughout the U.S. and Europe. Select works are in the permanent collections of several prestigious institutions; e.g., New Orleans Museum of Art [NOMA], Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts.

The Buzz
Simply put, Rodrigue's good -- and he has distinguished commissioned works and accolades to illustrate that fact. Among them:
* 1986: Commissioned by Republican Party to paint President Ronald Reagan [Reagan later donated painting to Louisiana State University]
* 1988: Commissioned by Republican Party to paint Vice President George Bush and his 10 grandchildren [painting now hangs in Bush's private office]
* 1989: Painted three Cajun Easter eggs for annual White House Easter Egg Roll
* 1992: Commissioned by Carillon Importers to paint Absolut Louisiana for USA Today
* 1993: Carillon Importers commissioned Absolut Rodrigue
* 1995: Commissioned by New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival to paint Louis Armstrong
* 1996: New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival commissioned portrait of Pete Fountain; and Neiman Marcus commissioned catalogue cover design for The Book [Butterflies Are Free]
* 1997: Commissioned by Democratic Inaugural Committee to paint President-elect Bill Clinton and Vice President-elect Al Gore
* 1998: Commissioned by New Orleans Jazz Club to create 50th anniversary poster; and Neiman Marcus commissioned catalogue cover design for The Book [Hawaiian Blues]
* 2000: Commissioned by Young & Rubicam to create paintings for ads promoting Xerox Color Inkjet Printers; and New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival commissioned painting of Al Hirt
* 2003: Honored as Outstanding Alum of the University of Louisiana [along with baseball legend Ron Guidry]
* 2004: Painted official portrait for the inauguration of Louisiana Governor Kathleen Rabineaux Blanco; inducted into Louisiana "Order of Living Legends" by the Acadian Museum; delivered guest lecutre at the Great Hall of the Nantucket Atheneum, the historical library on the island of Nantucket; and honored as Artist of the Year by the American Liver Foundation in Birmingham, Al.
* 2005: Created official 25th anniversary artwork for the Musical Arts Society of New Orleans

The Catalyst
On Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina -- the costliest and one of the deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history -- devastated much of the north-central Gulf Coast of the United States. Most notable in media coverage were the cataclysmic effects on the city of New Orleans, La., and in coastal Mississippi. Levees separating Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans were breached by the surge, ultimately flooding 80% of the city and many areas of neighboring parishes for weeks.

All told, Katrina is estimated to be responsible for $81.2B in damages, and for killing at least 1,836 people. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced from their homes, jobs, businesses and communities. Criticism of federal, state and local governments' reaction to the Category 5 hurricane has been widespread, and resulted in an investigation by the U.S. Congress and the resignation of Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] Director Michael Brown.

The Partners
* New Orleans Museum of Art [NOMA]
* Southeast Louisiana Chapter of the American Red Cross [ARCNO]
* United Way for the Greater New Orleans Area
* United Way of America

The Strategy
After Hurrricane Katrina, Rodrigue opened Rodrigue Studio Lafayette as a temporary gallery location about 135 miles from his hot-spot gallery in New Orleans' French Quarter, where Blue Dog was born. While government officials wrung their hands, the Louisiana native set about simultaneously touching, informing, enlightening and prospering people as his artistic and generous spirit led him to do.

The Process
Once relocated, Rodrigue immediately created We Will Rise Again [see image, above] to benefit the Red Cross in response to Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans. This startling, deep-blue work depicts the American flag covered with water. "The Blue Dog is partly submerged, and its eyes, normally yellow, are red with a broken heart," Rodrigue wrote in September 2005. "Like a ship's S.O.S., the red cross on the dog's chest calls out for help."

We Will Rise Again was the first of five works that the acclaimed artist created for his new initiative, Blue Dog Relief: George Rodrigue Art Campaign for Recovery. To directly benefit NOMA, which was closed for six months due to flood damage, he also painted Throw Me Something FEMA and You Can't Drown the Blues.

Following those releases was Rodrigue's launch of a campaign for New Orleans levee protection. He sent a print of To Stay Alive We Need Levee 5 to every member of Congress, and channels sales proceeds from silkscreen prints and related campaign materials -- including T-shirts, lapel pins, bumper stickers and buttons -- to NOMA.

Most recently, Rodrigue donated his Cut Through the Red Tape image to the United Way for use in promoting their new 2-1-1 dialing system. United Way 2-1-1 seeks to eliminate the red tape of reaching human-service agencies -- particularly, in the wake of natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.

The Upshot
Last spring, Rodrigue accepted the Southern Woman Magazine Spirit Award for his contributions to the city of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. On Oct. 14, 2006, he'll receive the Red Cross Humanitarian Award at a gala in his honor at NOMA; proceeds from the evening event will benefit the Southeast Louisiana Chapter of the American Red Cross.

The Financials
Thus far, the donation tally to all Blue Dog Relief beneficiaries is $700,000 -- including a check for $100,000 that Rodrigue presented to NOMA on March 3, 2006, to help kick off its grand re-opening: "The HeART of New Orleans," a three-day weekend celebration of the arts.

Funds have also been distributed to the Southeast Louisiana Chapter of the American Red Cross; the Christian Brothers Foundation in New Orleans' City Park, to care for the elderly Brothers who were displaced following the storm; and Chef Paul Prudhomme's Chefs Cook for Katrina Foundation, to help Chef Paul and other chefs who have cooked for Katrina's first responders, police, firefighters, volunteers and the military. As sales of Rodrigue's open- and numbered-edition prints grow, proceeds will continue to benefit NOMA, Southeast Louisiana Chapter of the American Red Cross, United Way of the Greater New Orleans Area, and United Way of America.

The Takeaway
Now, with one year's 20/20 hindsight, is there anything Rodrigue would do differently to implement Blue Dog Relief? "Not really," he replied. "It's worked perfect from the beginning and is still going strong."

If other artists/entrepreneurs/small-business owners sought to do creative giveback/fund-raising initiatives in their own communities, what would he advise them to do? "Create a program which is not only meaningful to you, but also to your customers," said Rodrigue. "Also, do something that your size company can handle and that is also a passionate cause for your staff [if you have one].

"This effort is one that our staff is proud to be a part of because they were personally affected, and because they see the need in the New Orleans area -- so they work extra hard to make it successful. This means extra hours for most of them, because we're not used to processing this sort of volume."

What about PR and marketing? "The biggest challenge is getting the word out. However, today with the Internet, that's taken on a whole new level," noted Rodrigue. "Remember to consistently build a mailing list which includes e-mail addresses. Then when the crisis arises, you'll have somewhere to start."

Rodrigue explained that Blue Dog Relief afforded many challenges [AKA opportunities] to retool their order-fulfillment process. "We made several changes to the way we normally do things," he said. Such as? "Such as offering online ordering for the first time; allowing two weeks for shipment; and tallying relief totals monthly -- or even bimonthly -- rather than daily. We have only one bookkeeper, plus our regular business to sustain, as well. In fact, it was so overwhelming when we first started, that it was about six weeks following when we first posted We Will Rise Again that we were able to make our first payment.

"To further complicate matters, the credit-card companies held off paying us because they thought something was fraudulent, due to the large volume; it took over a month to get that resolved. This was very frustrating, since we were anxious to pass the funds along to the non-profits...If you anticipate a purchase pattern which differs from your company's norm, I recommend giving merchant services and the credit-card companies a heads-up."

In fact, Rodrigue Studio has established entirely separate banking and merchant-services accounts for Blue Dog Relief. "In an effort to make it easier to keep the money separate, we set up not only a separate bank account, but also a separate merchant-services account and machine," Rodrigue noted. "This meant that, for non-online purchases, each gallery had to call one location to run through credit cards. It was kind of a pain at first, but we eventually got it down -- and it certainly makes things much easier from the accounting end."

Note: The period to purchase signed, open-edition prints of We Will Rise Again ends Dec. 31, 2006.

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