The state rolled out a star-studded, $7 million advertising campaign Tuesday aimed at luring tourists back to Louisiana and boosting the sluggish economy along the state's coast, which was ravaged last year by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Chef Emeril Lagasse, professional golfer David Toms, actor John Goodman and musicians Wynton Marsalis and Allen Toussaint are among the celebrities with Louisiana connections appearing in a television commercial that both thanks Americans for their hurricane recovery efforts and asks that they return to enjoy the state's unique culture, arts, food and music.
"Come for the people. Come for beignets," says actress Patricia Clarkson, a New Orleans native who most recently played a role in the Oscar-nominated movie "Good Night, and Good Luck," directed by George Clooney.
Called "Fall in Love with Louisiana All Over Again," the campaign consists of a commercial and half-dozen print ads unveiled by Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu. Landrieu said the celebrities donated their time and images for the campaign.
"This is the first installment," Landrieu said. The $7 million only covers the first phase of the effort to reach out to fellow Americans, "thank them for what they've done and invite them to come back."
There wasn't enough money to air the commercials nationally, so they will be concentrated in large nearby markets, including Atlanta, Little Rock, and San Antonio, Austin, Dallas and Houston in Texas, said Angele Davis, secretary of the state Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism.
"We're hoping for Congressional relief dollars to help expand the campaign," Davis said.
The print ads will be in dozens of major newspapers and magazines, including "Food and Wine" and "Essence," Davis said. They depict various cultural elements from Louisiana. Lagasse can be seen standing on a dock holding a large fish with a trawling boat in the background.
Many of the ads depict New Orleans, where 60 percent of the state's pre-Katrina tourism business was concentrated, Davis said. There's John Goodman tipping his hat from a New Orleans streetcar and Allen Toussaint sitting at a piano on a French Quarter sidewalk.
"These ads get the message across that many of the cultural elements are intact," Davis said, adding that the timing for the campaign coincides with the recent availability of hotel rooms.
Katrina flooded 80 percent of New Orleans and much of the city remains a mess. Demolition of the worst-damaged homes in the hard hit lower Ninth Ward and Lakeview areas only began this week.
But the campaign stresses the areas of the city that have largely bounced back.
Wendy Rodrigue, wife of famous "Blue Dog" artist George Rodrigue, said her husband participated to spread the word that the parts of New Orleans tourists love, particularly the French Quarter, are fine and ready for tourists.
The Rodrigues just moved back into their New Orleans home about a week ago, Wendy Rodrigue said. The couple had evacuated to Lafayette and Carmel, Calif., while their home was being repaired from storm damage.
"It feels so good to be back," she said. "George was so honored to be a part of this."