Pikachu, Live Oaks Supper Club & Neighbors Meet the Freeman Challenge

The Lower Garden District is a walkable and beautiful old neighborhood in New Orleans just ten blocks upriver from Canal Street. It features historic 19th Century architectural treasures on oak-lined streets, quaint commercial storefronts and buildings in scale with the neighborhood esthetics, and calming and inviting public green spaces, fountains and monuments,. The Lower Garden District’s vibe and style epitomize the concept of “inclusive urban livability.”

Protecting, enhancing and encouraging urban livability in the Lower Garden District is the mission and passion of the Coliseum Square Association volunteers. Formed in 1972, the CSA was first active in fighting a proposed super highway on-ramp to the Mississippi Bridge from bisecting the neighborhood and surely destroying it.

With that threat vanquished, the CSA, an all volunteer-run neighborhood association committed to a long program designed to monitor, protect and revitalize the historic buildings, green spaces and the culture of the neighborhood. The group has been consistent and determined in its care and concern for proper zoning, suitable land use, crime prevention, police support and preservation, restoration and maintenance of all neighborhood assets.

Fast forward to 2015. The Board of the CSA and its Parks Committee had been struggling to raise funds to restore the Lafon Fountain in Coliseum Square and to create some sort of endowment to ensure permanent funding for the maintenance of all the fountains in the Lower Garden District. At a Board retreat that summer, the possibility of pursuing funding through the Freeman Endowment Challenge came under discussion. The match part of the Challenge was enticing, but raising $50,000 in less than a year was a daunting prospect for a group of volunteers. Board members Karon Reese, Kara Renne and Julie Simpson were especially intrigued by the Challenge and persuaded the Board to go for it.

Photo by Charles Leche

“We learned a lot about campaigning for an Endowment Fund at the GNOF Freeman Challenge seminars and through coaching from the GNOF staff,” said Karon. “And after much soul searching we really believed that our association, loosely organized as it was, could mount a credible campaign and meet that $50,000 goal.”

The GNOF accepted the Coliseum Square Association into the Freeman Endowment Challenge program in February, 2016. There wasn’t much time to celebrate. The real development work with all its strategic planning, asks, details and commitments had to get going and conclude before November 30, 2016, just nine months off.

“We brainstormed about ways to engage donors – some of our ideas were straightforward and traditional, others were a bit quirky,” said Karon.

The campaign had several streams of income. First of all, Board members all agreed to contribute $1000 or commit to raising $1000 from other sources. There are twenty one neighbors and friends on the Board.  Secondly, a more general contribution “ask” was made through Facebook and the CSA website and email. Lastly, to encourage Lower Garden District neighbors to get behind the Endowment campaign, the CSA created the Live Oak Supper Club. That’s the quirky one.

The idea was to throw a dinner party for the neighborhood with gourmet food and drink served in festive surroundings. The Live Oak Supper Club Dinner was scheduled for June 9, 2016 at the historic Felicity Church right on Coliseum Square. The Dinner Club committee publicized the supper club event through Facebook and social media and sold tickets to the dinner through EventBrite. The event sold out and when the lights and candles went down and the evening was just a happy memory for the neighbors and friends who attended, the CSA Freeman Challenge Endowment Fund was up by $11,000.

The success of the June event created buzz about restoring the Coliseum Square fountains so it was a no-brainer to plan a second Live Oak Supper Club event for the fall. This time the location was Il Mercado, a new event and reception venue in the Lower Garden District. In addition to gourmet dinner and cocktails served by the sassy Marie Antoinnettes, a silent auction was conducted featuring items contributed by neighborhood merchants and other friends of Coliseum Square.

Another sell-out, another fun neighborhood event and the CSA’s Freeman Challenge Endowment Fund was up another $12,000.

Serendipitous Fund Raising: The Pokemonument and the Movie Company

One morning in early August, 2016, Coliseum Square dog walkers and neighbors out for early exercise were startled to see a large, very large statue of Pikachu perched in the middle of one of the dry fountains whose restoration is the fund-raising objective of the CSA’s Freeman Endowment Challenge. Pikachu is a porky main character in the wildly popular smartphone game app, Pokemon Go. What a fun mystery. Who created the five-foot statue? And how did the urban guerrilla artists spirit it into the park without nobody seeing them? And why’d they do it in the first place?

Pikachu in Coliseum Square soon went viral on the internet and fans of Pokemon Go and the merely curious flocked to the Terpsichore St. dry fountain to get selfies and to touch the Pokemonument for luck. It was a sensation for a few days. Unfortunately, one night a rogue spoilsport vandal attacked Pikachu with intent to harm. The anonymous artists who created Pikachu didn’t miss a beat  –  they re-spirited him out of the park to a safe place under the cover of night… but not before explaining in a statement on the internet that they were donating the Pokemonument to the Coliseum Square Association to be auctioned off to help fund the restoration of the fountains in the park. Neal Auction company  agreed to auction the statue off on September 25, and lo and behold Pikachu contributed another $2000 to the Freeman Challenge Fund.

With all the excitement and internet buzz around the Pokemonument, Karon Reese says other serendipitous donors came through for the Challenge Fund. A director of a movie that filmed for several days in the neighborhood made a generous contribution. Preservationists and individuals who learned about the fund raising campaign through the Pikachu caper contributed. In all, the Freeman Endowment Challenge pushed the Coliseum Square Association fund raising total above $68,000.

Challenge Met, And Then Some

Karon Reese says that working the campaign for the Freeman Challenge did more than raise an endowment for maintenance of the fountains. It raised new members for the association. It energized and encouraged neighbors to work together. The Association is stronger and more focused on its mission than before.”That’s a surprising and beautiful thing to happen for us.”

Interested in participating in the Freeman Challenges? Attendance at a readiness workshop is required for participation. Sign up here!