Even if you got a D in 8th grade art, or consider yourself the least creative person in your family, you’ll find that the nationally franchised, Louisiana-based Painting with a Twist has something for you.
Let’s toast to that — yes, raise your glass! For not only was the successful company born out of real pain and suffering, but as the New Orleans area healed post-Katrina, ladies were sipping wine and painting pictures instead of sitting home worrying and being sad.
And to think, it all started with two enterprising, hilarious women who met at their kids’ kindergarten class.
Cathy Deano and Renee Maloney knew each other prior to Katrina and had a background in volunteering in their community. They hardly considered themselves entrepreneurs, though Maloney does have a background in business (Deano, the brunette in the picture, right, is a trained interior designer.)
But when the storm flooded Deano’s house and destroyed Maloney’s husband’s three truck stops, the two Mandeville, La. moms wanted to think beyond the horrors in the region. Living some 30 miles north of NOLA, their city lies just on the other side of Lake Pontchartrain. Subsequently, when the levees broke water flooded and devastated their community, too.
“Alligators started floating in your front yard,” says Deano. “The water was at your chest, and you would turn around and there’s a 10-foot alligator on the lawn. They were displaced. Usually they live in the bayous, the gully, and it’s very lush down here. We have lived peacefully with them. Sometimes you will see them sitting on a log, but when the water rises …”
The women didn’t think of themselves as artists but they did have a hunch they could help the community think beyond their FEMA worries and the deaths of hundreds just a few miles away in New Orleans.
They started with one class, but didn’t envision going beyond the local meet-up or expanding to anything regular, even. Fate had something else in mind.
“We were probably a couple weeks into it [after Katrina hit in late Aug. 2005] — and we lose power often, power lines are above ground so if a storm or heavy wind hits [we’re in trouble] — when 40 women were sitting around drinking and painting and we lost power,” Maloney said. “We said we’d give everyone their money back, told them to go home; but they said absolutely not! They took their cars up to the windows of the studio, kept the lights on and painted by the lights of their cars. When Cathy and I sat down and talked to customers, asking ‘why’d y’all want to stay?,’ they said we don’t think about FEMA, the kids, the flood, while we’re here, because we’re having such a good time.”
That was the a-ha moment. “We had forgotten the daily stress. That was when we knew we were on to something, touching people’s lives,” Maloney said.
Today, one can find Painting with a Twist franchises all the way from Arlington, Tex. to Westport, Conn., where people (usually ladies, according to PWT) come together to paint the same masterpiece. There are 232 franchises and counting. The business model works like this: a professional artist or art teacher is hired to come in and select a painting for the group to mimic. Everyone knows in advance what they’ll be painting (this info is on the franchisee’s website). Classes are two or three hours long, cost about $35 for shorter classes and $45 for longer ones, and ladies b.y.o.b. (meaning vino, usually).
Another reason the entrepreneurs, who’ve been in many national magazines and have received innumerable plaudits, have been so successful: they think far, far beyond themselves. Their Painting with a Purpose offshoot has funnelled about $2 million into various charities. Obviously, when PWT was formally established in 2007, funds were still needed to help the local communities heal and rebuild, but now other charities benefit, too. Just a few of the charities they’ve helped include St. Francis Animal Sanctuary, the Al Copeland Foundation, Leaps & Bounds Sports Center and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
When they started, a woman working on the rebuilding who was in the area, came to an early PWT workshop in Metairie “just to decompress,” proving to the ladies that this “would be a fun thing for women to do. Women don’t really have a place to congregate. Though we are getting more and more men, we’re still a good 85 percent women because here, women can come and talk about issues of the day and have a few drinks together,” says Deano.
She laughs, saying that if you tell your significant other you’re going out to a bar with the ladies, he’ll give you a look. “But if you tell your husband or boyfriend you’re going to an art class [with that bottle of wine], he’ll just say, ‘have a great time!'”
To join a Painting with a Twist class, please visit their site. What are you waiting for? Oh yes, bring your favorite Merlot! Visit the local PWT Uptown and check out the gorgeous NOLA-themed paintings. Sign up for a date now!