Artist's donation launches nonprofit Foundation dedicated to Katrina recovery

02/19/07 -- John Pope  - Launched with a donation of artist LeRoy Neiman's Mardi Gras work worth at least $285,000, a nonprofit foundation has been established by the Rex organization to receive money and award grants to help in the recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

The Pro Bono Publico Foundation, which is to be officially announced today, is an outgrowth of the storm-related initiative that one of Carnival's oldest krewes set up last year to raise money for organizations such as the Police Foundation and to bolster the development of charter schools. The foundation has been set up because the krewe needed a separate organization to handle the money it has received, said Stephen Hales, a member of the foundation's board.

The foundation takes its name from the Rex organization's Latin motto, which means "for the public good." Much of the money the foundation receives will go to charter schools, said Christian "Christy" Brown, the Rex spokesman who is chairman of the foundation's board.

One of the first contributions will come from the auction of 75 signed Neiman silk-screen prints of the Rex parade estimated to be worth $3,800 apiece. Though Neiman is best known for his depictions of athletes and the sports in which they compete, he created the poster after Ronald French, a Rex member and friend, invited him to ride in the 2001 Rex parade.

"It was an unforgettable experience," Neiman said in a telephone interview from New York City. "I kept taking my hood off, and Dr. French kept putting it back on, saying, 'You can't show your face.' "

When the Rex organization started seeking ways to raise money for its Katrina-related projects, French asked the artist to consider donating his works.

Neiman responded with 75 prints of "Mardi Gras Parade," issued in 2002. The bright picture, which measures 2 feet by 3 feet, depicts the Rex parade moving through a jubilant throng.

It has two touches that French's son William suggested: a tiny picture of Neiman himself, standing in the middle of the crowd, and a flasher, who is discreetly lifting her T-shirt on a balcony.

"I'm just happy to have made the contribution," Neiman said of the donation. "It's a wonderful opportunity to have your work function in some way that can benefit, and not just someone buying the picture. It makes the artist feel noble."

While the foundation is designed to benefit a broad range of public-spirited projects and groups, Neiman stipulated that money from the sale of his prints be used only for educational purposes.

Money for the foundation -- perhaps as much as $35,000 -- also is being raised through the sale of purple, green and gold carabiners, which are Carnival-colored spring-loaded metal rings often used by rock and mountain climbers. They are also used to affix camping tools to backpacks.

Like last year's rubber bracelets, the carabiners, each of which bears the inscription "Rex Supports Education," are being sold to members to throw in Tuesday's parade.

This source of income raised about $25,000 last year, Brown said, and it was matched with $25,000 from the Renew New Orleans Foundation. The money was given to the Police Foundation to help police officers and other first responders who had lost their homes to Katrina's onslaught.

The charter-school and fund-raising initiatives, along with a volunteer program to clean up the St. Charles Avenue parade route, were set up last year by the Rex organization as part of the hurricane-recovery effort.

Originally, Rex's charter-school initiative, which Hales leads, was designed to deploy krewe members to schools that needed them, not only to be all-purpose volunteers but also to offer their skills in such fields as contracting, insurance, accounting, architecture and legal representation.

But when people and groups wanted to send money, Rex had to set up an organization to receive donations and make grants that would respond to the needs of the community, Hales said.

The result was the new foundation.

Its Web site,, which is still being developed, will have grant-application forms that prospective applicants will be able to download, Hales said.

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