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.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Minnesota Artisans Mobilize Community to Create 9/11 Stained-Glass Memorial Window: Part 2

Editor's note: This week, as we mark the fifth anniversary of 9/11, GoodBiz113 is privileged to recognize a far-reaching project spearheaded by two exemplary artists/citizens/small-business owners in 2002. This is the second in a two-part series.

The Upshot
The towering tribute that Stephanie and Mike Podulke coordinated catches rays of light as it annexes the west side of Mayo Civic Center and Rochester Art Center. It aptly reflects the heartfelt spirit of the 400-plus volunteers who donated time, energy and sentimental glass fragments to build the meditative and symbolic salute to 9/11's heroes and victims.

At the 9/11 Memorial Window's site is a small stand, on which a comment book rests. Inside the book are photos that chronicle the memorial's assembly, plus memories and observations recorded by 150 to 200 volunteers. Among them:
* Photo, labeled "Clear shards, crystals for Twin Towers...There is a special place in heaven for those who wrap little pieces!"
* Note from the Rochester Fire Department firefighter who took a copper panel back to the fire station, where he and other firefighters punched 343 star-holes to represent the number of New York City Fire Department comrades who died on 9/11.
* Note from John and Cheryl Coleman, who worked on panel No. 7. "We used leaded crystal wine glasses given to us by Cheryl's brother, Col. George White, U.S. Army [Ret.], as a wedding gift in 1969."
* Blessing delivered by Rev. Dillman Baker Sorrells [now retired from First UU] during dedication ceremony on Nov. 23, 2002
* Poem by Abbie Whitehead, DVM, after working on the window for the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, Minnesota, on October 20, 2002:

Stained Glass Window

Our tears have become crystal
now that the mist has cleared.
Surrounded by their sisters
and soldered by their brothers
all soldiered in together
recruits for a war that was not theirs.
The rainbow was their lives,
all the colors were their faces.
These let the light come shining,
and let the angels fly.
For they are still among us now
we see them in the stars.
And through the crystal
we must see
the light in every one on earth;
help others to see, too --
That war and terror are not the way
to let the light shine through.

In October 2002, Dr. Abbie Whitehead, a veterinarian, was visiting from Fairfield, Cal., to have surgery at Rochester's Mayo Clinic. One day, she spied one of Podulkes' hand-painted signs and drove up to join their volunteer project.

"I thought it was neat they were doing it, and that they were letting other people get involved, too," reflected Whitehead. "I knew that talking to people while doing something physical and creative would help take my mind off why I was there. Plus, since I used to be a farrier, I was pretty adept at hammering onto a pritchel. That came in handy for punching stars on copper."

Whitehead grew up on Long Island, and had a 10-year military career in the Veterinary Corps. She was still in the military on 9/11 [stationed at Travis AFB], and knew two people who died that day: a distant cousin, and the wife of a Pentagon colonel.

"I think 9/11 affected all of us and opened a vulnerability on our own soil," said Whitehead. "I know every time I drive across the Golden Gate Bridge to visit my mother now, I think about it and recall exactly when it happened: 5:45 a.m. [PT]. It's akin to the day JFK was shot."

Thinking back to October 2002, Whitehead was poetic about her time working on the memorial. "While doing some soldering and punching star-holes one night, the Big Dipper was out," she said. "You know, the more you travel, the more aware you become that we all look up at the same sky and stars."

Within a year of completing the memorial, the Podulkes were publicly honored for their efforts. In November 2003, they won a prestigious CUDE award [creative initiative category], bestowed by the mayor-appointed Rochester Committee on Urban Design and the Environment [CUDE].

Sandi Goslee, senior planner for the Rochester/Olmsted Planning Department, said the competition is consistently keen for CUDE awards, currently marking their 20th year. "We've always had great nominees and even greater winners," she said. "Ever since the 9/11 Memorial Window was installed, everyone's raved about how wonderful it is -- both in terms of its aesthetics and the process that led to the end result."

"If you want to create something great, you've got to take risks," noted landscape architect Andy Masterpole and 2003-2005 CUDE chair. "The Podulkes did that. Physically, their memorial is great. Then, the way they managed to get so many people involved...Well, that's not easy to do these days. Their entire project was an artistic triumph of community spirit and Americanism at its best."

In December 2003, during the 20th Mayor's Medal of Honor ceremony, Stephanie and Mike Podulke received the distinguished Legacy Award for their involvement in neighborhood and civic affairs. That accolade was also well-deserved, said E. Christine Schultze, an architect who serves on CUDE, Rochester Planning and Zoning Commission, Design Review Committee for MnDOT work on Highways 52 and 14, and board of directors for 1000 Friends of Minnesota.

"To me, it's incredibly important to recognize urban initiatives such as the Podulkes' project," noted Schultze. "Artists who have that kind of collaborative and guiding spirit, thoughtful approach, and the power to inspire others and work through people, deserve all the support their communities can render."

OK, but why build a 9/11 memorial in Rochester, Minn. -- so far away from Ground Zero? "Essentially, Rochester is an agrarian town; there's a real undercurrent of agriculture here," Schultze explained. "It's important to remember that, in some sense, 9/11 was like a war. It's hard for people to talk about and simply isn't discussed. That kind of quiet absorption is very Midwestern and is always there.

"To me, it seems perfectly logical that this memorial would happen here. It's like six degrees of separation. 9/11 was part of the entire country. Yes, it happened in New York City, some 1,200-plus miles away. But it's something we all care about, and somehow need to connect with that and express that."

Phil Wheeler, director of the Rochester/Olmsted Planning Department, agrees. "Some of the closest parallels include Pearl Harbor, JFK and the Challenger disaster," he said. "Tragic events such as 9/11 remind us that we're part of the same community. Mike and Stephanie's project helped people deal with their sense of loss, and provided a sense of involvement and control."

Wheeler and his wife, Sue, donated some of Sue's late mother's glass to the memorial. He appreciates observing personal reactions to the community art -- especially, those of the thousands of international visitors who visit Rochester annually.

"Our 9/11 Memorial Window seems to have an effect on people -- not unlike the impact that the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall has," said Wheeler. "It reminds everyone that we're all part of the same community."

The Financials
Stephanie and Mike Podulke provided tools and equipment, and donated materials and supplies to construct the 9/11 Memorial Window; Olmsted County donated use of its fairgrounds for construction; the City of Rochester contributed $4,000 for supplies and framing; and Mayo Civic Center paid for the installation. Estimated market value: $40,000.

"The Podulkes never asked for supply money; I asked them what they needed," Hunziker noted. "Imagine using broken glass to make that kind of statement. Sheer genius."

Sutherland agreed. "No one could have watched video coverage of 9/11 events without being affected," he said. "What happened in this country could have happened anywhere in the world. The Podulkes helped us see and feel that. And what did we give up? Just a little public space. That's easy to do, and we -- meaning all cities -- need to do more of it in order to encourage more community art."

Donna Drews, executive director of Mayo Civic Center, frequently gets to note people's reactions to the memorial. "There's no doubt that, on both a local and international scale, the memorial creates a sense of awe in everyone who experiences it," she said. "We were very pleased that the Civic Center was chosen for its installation. It gives us the opportunity to diversify our role by sharing the 9/11 Memorial Window with visitors from all over the world."

The Takeaway
So, after incurring inestimable out-of-pocket expenses and devoting time -- time that could have otherwise been spent on actual paid projects -- would the Podulkes do their 9/11 project again? In a heartbeat.

"Why do we live?" Mike rhetorically asks. "Time comes out of the business. Sure, it's a sacrifice of sorts. But it's the right thing to do. Involving others in creating a tangible expression of our collective grief and sympathy was, for us, the right thing to do. So we did it."

What would the Podulkes tell other artists and small-business owners who endeavor to make a difference in their communities? "Have the courage to dream about it," Stephanie advised. "Don't wait for permission or approval. Just move forward with your vision."

It's no secret that entrepreneurs have, uh, control issues. How do they steer projects that require a certain degree of hands-off collaboration? "Be consumer-friendly and wary of over-controlling it," said Mike. "Just provide the supplies and tools needed, dream, and be willing to relinquish control. Organizers need to let go and give people the power to express themselves."

"We knew that we couldn't design the memorial by committee," Stephanie explained. "So, we spent a lot of time visualizing an approximate end result, then did a very basic design. People could act freely in our well-planned, experiential playgound...On the rainbow-colored ribbon, for instance, volunteers did a fantastic job of being sensitive and intuitive."

Then there's the responsibility of being accountable to stakeholders -- i.e., beyond any requisite financial reporting. "No doubt, we owe a note of gratitude to the city and county for giving this opportunity to the community," said Mike.

"Yes," Stephanie nodded. "Thanks go to the city, county and citizens for believing in us and having the courage to create and display this memorial."

Last question: What if -- perish the thought -- the community's 7-foot-by-33-foot 9/11 Memorial Window breaks? Without a beat, Mike responded, "We know about 500 people who can fix it."

For a thought-provoking take on the five-year anniversary of 9/11, check out Bloggermann.

Minnesota Artisans Mobilize Community to Create 9/11 Stained-Glass Memorial Window: Part 1

Editor's note: This week, as we mark the fifth anniversary of 9/11, GoodBiz113 is privileged to recognize a far-reaching project spearheaded by two exemplary artists/citizens/small-business owners in 2002. This is the first in a two-part series.

The Company
Rochester Stained Glass
1105 Center St. W.
Rochester, MN 55902
Phone: [507] 282-2752

Founded: 1976
Employees: 2

Contacts: Stephanie & Mike Podulke, Co-Owners

The Business
Since launching Rochester Stained Glass in 1976, Stephanie and Mike Podulke have been commissioned to create most of the community's stained glass. Among their most notable projects:
* 32 windows for Peace United Church of Christ
* Round window dedicated outside the Methodist Hospital chapel
* Window above the main entrance to John Marshall High School
* 20-foot-by-20-foot mural at St. Pius X Catholic School's east entrance, to memorialize a fifth-grade student's slain family members

The Podulkes' large-scale creations typically invite/require collaboration with the client's staff, members, students, etc., to design and build each project.

The Buzz
Besides owning and operating a small business, the Podulkes -- both of whom supposedly retired 30 years ago -- are exemplary citizens, too. Mike is a longtime Olmsted County commissioner who typically sweeps his elections. He and Stephanie consistently lend their time and talents to various community events and projects; e.g., neighborhood associations, annual Maypole dance and coming-of-age celebration at First Unitarian Universalist Church [AKA First UU].

The Catalyst
In spring of 2002, just months after thousands of men and women perished on Sept. 11, 2001, the Podulkes conceived the idea of building a stained-glass memorial window in Rochester, Minn. -- some 1,150 miles from Ground Zero, in New York City's Lower Manahattan financial district. Further, they'd involve some people from the community to help create it.

"This type of project is very healing for all the people involved," Mike explained. "With 9/11, we knew that the whole country is a victim and that our whole community needed to heal -- person by person, piece by piece. We wanted to make something positive and permanent out of a tragedy."

The Partners
* Olmsted County
* Rochester Park and Recreation Department
* 400-plus volunteers; e.g., firefighters, citizens, Girl Scouts, seniors, parents, kids, out-of-town Mayo Clinic patients

The Strategy
The Podulkes were prepared to donate their time, some glass, copper foil and other materials. Still, they'd still need space in which to build the memorial and, of course, for its installation. They knew just where to go.

"When Mike first called me, he said they'd need space for a two-foot-by-three-foot memorial," recalled John Hunziker, executive director of the Olmsted County Historical Society, and past president of the Rochester City Council. "Then, while scouting possible locations in the Mayo Civic Center, easy-going Roy [Sutherland, superintendent of Rochester Park and Recreation] simply said, 'Pick any spot, Mike.' Well, Mike saw that tall space and fell in love with it."

"In my mind, it was the perfect spot," said Sutherland. "There's not enough art in this community...I was familiar with their work, and knew Mike and Stephanie would fill it with something amazing."

The Process
After expanding their design to fit Mayo Civic Center's cathedral-like installation space -- measuring an impressive 33 feet high and seven feet wide -- the Podulkes focused on building the community's commemorative monument to 9/11.

In September 2002, the Podulkes did some grass-roots PR and advertising [e.g., word-of-mouth, hand-painted signs, blurb in Rochester's Post-Bulletin newspaper] to recruit volunteers to wash and cut hundreds of pieces of glass, wrap copper foil around each piece, solder, etc. Then, over three weeks in October, 11 tables in Industrial Building No. 2 at the Olmsted County Fairgrounds would serve as their "studio." For four nights per week, six hours per night, they collaborated with 400-plus people of all ages and backgrounds -- some of whom hadn't seen one another in 10-15 years.

"The stuff that people brought was incredible," Stephanie marveled. "Lots of people brought chairs. One woman supplied hot chocolate. And the glass! We received broken crystals, tops of percolators, camera prisms and lenses, and lots of assorted glass from wedding gifts -- expensive and ugly alike. A recovering alcoholic contributed the bottoms of six wine glasses."

Somehow, it all found a place in the Podulkes' keenly symbolic design. At the base is New York's Central Park, which rises to the World Trade Center's Twin Towers, hauntingly depicted in countless pieces of clear glass. Meanwhile, a rainbow-colored ribbon of glass floats from beneath the towers to the memorial's top, representing the spiritual connection between the community and the victims of 9/11. Bordering each of the memorial's 11 panels -- "none of which is true nor square," Mike notes -- is copper sheeting, into which more than 3,000 star-holes were punched; i.e., one to represent each person who died during 9/11's multiple attacks on our nation.

"In terms of size and scope, the memorial itself turned out to be four to five times larger than originally planned," said Stephanie. "Still, we wanted to involve people in this community blessing to those who died, and we wanted everyone to have ownership of it."

Evidently, it worked. Long after Ida Young and her family spent every possible hour working on their own panel, she still cherishes those weeks in October 2002. While off from her Mayo Clinic nursing job with a bad knee, Young, her three teenage daughters, plus some friends, created panel No. 9, which renders the tops of the Twin Towers.

"The Podulkes let me be there from beginning to end," Young enthused. "It became a really nice way to recuperate, and to connect with my family and friends. Plus, it provided significant time for reflection and remembering the events of 9/11. The entire process was almost spiritual."

Then there's the giveback aspect. "I've received a lot, and this was just one way to give something back," noted Young. "While putting myself though school, our family utilized a fair amount of community resources. What goes around, comes around. It's important to teach my children that, and to get involved in things that make a difference.

"Too often, I think, we take our freedoms for granted. What happened on 9/11 could have happened anywhere. This memorial will help us all to remember that. I'm very honored to have been a part of it."

Several years ago, Robin Taylor worked at the New York-based Population Council. Now a seasoned Prejudice Reduction Workshop facilitator for Rochester's Diversity Council, she, too, appreciated the opportunity to be a part of the Podulkes' project.

"9/11 really hit me hard," Taylor said. "For two years, I had the pleasure of viewing the Twin Towers' distinct place in the city's skyline. Moreover, to hear about friends who, for some reason, were late for work that day and somehow managed to avoid the chaos, destruction and death...It's overwhelming for adults to comprehend -- much less, to try and explain to kids. About all you can say is that, today, we're all citizens of New York, and we're all a part of the global community."

Taylor and her First UU walking group got involved in making the memorial happen. On several occasions, she also brought her two teenage daughters and her mother.

"The neat thing was having three generations of us there working it," she said. "Mostly, we wrapped glass in copper foil. It was fun to be creative, play with colors, and participate in something positive and constructive, not destructive... Now, it's just fun to walk by the memorial and see what we did. Everyone thinks it's spectacular."

Spectacular, indeed. Try framing all the panels. "It sounded like an enormous project," recalled Daryl Nigon, a Rochester native and president of Nigon Woodworks, which has framed stained-glass projects of all shapes and sizes for the Podulkes. "Once it was done, though, and installed, it just awed me...I'm so impressed that Mike and Stephanie would undertake a project of this scale -- to think of it, organize it, and then spend so much time to help Rochester remember 9/11. This is something that our kids and grandkids will have."

Peter Podulke, Mike's brother, is a 250-pound, self-employed brick and stonemason [and interpretive dancer] based in St. Paul, Minn. When he heard about the memorial, he was chomping at the bit to somehow participate in its development. Lo and behold, he was called down to install it -- with a little help.

"During the entire time the memorial was being assembled, I was just wishing for a chance to be involved," Peter gushed. "After all, 9/11 is such a difficult thing to bite off. It's hard to render such a horrible event. Mike and Stephanie managed to do it, though. The end result is thematically unified, with several social layers of involvement, craftsmanship, and complete wholeness and integrity of expression. I was delighted to break away to do it."

From the memorial's panel No. 1 on up, installation went well. Then, when the expandable floor crane carried Peter and panel No. 11 to the ceiling, that was it. He simply couldn't fit into the cramped, irregular space.

Fortunately, Stephanie and Mike knew just the diminutive, albeit strong, person for the job: Jean Hanson, a Rochester native, fellow First UU member and avid volunteer who had also spent time piecing together the memorial.

"Yes, I got to screw in the final panel," said the energetic Hanson. "It was such a small space...No one else could possibly fit up there."

Hanson then recalled the grave concern she had for her son and daughter-in-law, Chris, who lived in Midtown, just five miles from Ground Zero. "Of course, on the morning of 9/11, I called their house right away," she said. "Later, I learned that Chris' first cousin, who worked in the Twin Towers, had been told to stay at his desk. He chose to leave and survived...

"Whether or not you know someone directly impacted by 9/11, everyone is affected by it. It's a wonderful thing that Stephanie and Mike did to help our community remember that."

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Welcome to GoodBiz113!

Inspiration comes from the darndest places. Take GoodBiz113, for instance. Its genesis was mounting frustration, disgust and anger re daily news about corporate gluttony and greed run amok [e.g., Enron, Halliburton], earmark spending, bungled government programs [the four-letter expletive/punchline FEMA pops to mind], corruption, multibillion-dollar no-bid contracts, cronyism, profiteering, finger-pointing, and mind-boggling, heads-in-the-sand denial about issues that threaten our very lives and/or the planet Earth [e.g., hurricanes, floods, transportation safety, homeland security, global warming].

Emboldened by Paddy Chayevsky and Anne Murray
Most days, I felt like Paddy Chayevsky's news anchor Howard Beale, portrayed by the late Peter Finch in the Oscar-winning 1976 film "Network": "Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!... You've got to say, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Then we'll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: 'I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!'"

After taking several dozen long, deep breaths, I decided an attitude adjustment was in order. My experience as an independent communications professional who's written for and about countless entrepreneurs, small-business owners and self-employed folks unearthed too many truly positive, instructive and spirit-soaring stories that are going untold. Profiles and features about small businesses that partner with public agencies, educational institutions and/or not-for-profit groups to benefit the greater good in innovative and far-reaching ways, deserve to be published -- as do stories about exemplary small-biz stakeholders, friends and champions. I'm just the pathologically optimistic wordsmith to tell those stories, I concluded.

So, here we are. Decades after Anne Murray crooned/pleaded, "We sure could use a little good news today" ["A Little Good News," 1983] -- and, frankly, three-plus years since I initially had this bright idea for a sustainable online publishing venture -- I'm finally rolling out GoodBiz113. My hope is that you'll find our content informational, enlightening and [sometimes anyway] entertaining. Beyond that, perhaps you'll even come away inspired to forge synergies in your own corner of the Universe.

1 + 1 = 3
"I get the 'GoodBiz' part. But what's up with the '113'?" you ask. Well, it's about synergy. Take one promising component and combine it with another promising component, and the end result is greater than the sum of the parts. Think Reese's peanut butter cups. In and of themselves, chocolate and peanut butter are pretty terrific elements [unless, of course, you're allergic to them]. Combine those two ingredients, though, and voilĂ  -- scrumptious splendor!

At GoodBiz113, you can look forward to reading about diverse small-biz synergies that are well off the radars of most mainstream news editors and producers. Along the way, you'll encounter links to various entities -- including several socially responsible advertisers [rated by Business Ethics and/or Domini Social Equity Fund] with whom GoodBiz113 has chosen to partner.

For starters, we'll donate at least 10% of our pretax e-commissions to not-for-profit groups that serve the greatest possible good; e.g., Rochester, Minn.'s Diversity Council, a Charities Review Council-approved Smart Givers Network organization which, since 1989, has effectively promoted cultural understanding, tolerance, peace and respect via its Prejudice Reduction Workshops for students in grades K-12, plus diversity training for businesses.

Thanks for checking out our work-in-progress GoodBiz113. Please bookmark us and come back again soon.