It’s no simple task to step into a new leadership role at an organization that’s been around long enough to be considered an institution. But when that organization has been struggling with controversies that threw its continued existence into doubt, and is trying to correct its course under new ownership and with a revised direction? That’s a special kind of challenge, and one that Caroline Rosen—who last year was hired as executive director for the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation, a non-profit that organizes the longtime cocktail festival in New Orleans and related events—was ready for.
Not that the first year was easy. “[The 2018 event] was the 16th Tales of the Cocktail, but the first Tales of the Cocktail Foundation event,” Rosen says. “Thanks to everyone who came out and gave us a shot, it was a big success. It was our year to get it together, and now that our grants committee is together, and we’ve seen excitement from the community, we hope to increase that impact.”
Last year’s event may have drawn a somewhat smaller crowd than in recent years, but the event’s influence—in terms of engagement with the spirits and cocktails community, and in funding for advancing projects—was significant. Grants adding up to $250,000 were distributed to an array of organizations and individuals, and the foundation’s retooled direction means this is just the start. “Our goal through Tales is to raise money, then give it away,” Rosen says. “We hope to grow that footprint as we move forward. We can continue to get the message across that this is an amazing week to gather and see old friends while making new ones—but it’s also an opportunity for us to talk about tough issues in the industry, and really advance this community.”
As Rosen enters her second year as the organization’s director, the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation is aimed at changing in other ways, as well. While in past years the event has featured “Tales on Tour” spinoffs in cities including Vancouver, Edinburgh, Buenos Aires and Mexico City, the traveling event is heading for Puerto Rico in 2019. The choice was made to highlight the island’s contribution to spirits and cocktail culture, but more significantly to lend financial and moral support to a region still reeling from the impact of Hurricane Maria in 2017 and the failure of the federal government to provide adequate support.
“When Puerto Rico came up, it just made sense for everyone across the board,” Rosen says. “There are so many similarities between New Orleans and San Juan. After Katrina, we needed people to know it was okay to come back, and spend their money in our bars and restaurants—that makes such an impact. We want to make sure the world knows they’re open for business, and partner with our friends in Puerto Rico to support all they’ve been able to accomplish. Natural disasters can hit any of us, and as New Orleanians, we’re so grateful for what people did for us, we want to pay it forward.”
As the organization shifts direction to become more transparent and more supportive of industry efforts, it’s also increasing its local profile. The foundation’s offices and headquarters are moving to downtown New Orleans, and they’re opening a bar that will be a central feature of the organization’s public events and ongoing role in the city. “This gives us an opportunity to host events throughout the year,” she says. “We’ll be able to engage with all of our guests who come through New Orleans, and we can be a home base for the community all year round.”
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