A Gayle-force breath of fresh air

Donna Daniels
Post Independent Staff

It isn’t exactly an ivory tower, but from her perch high atop the Glenwood Springs Center for the Arts, Gayle Mortell can see the shape of the future.

Mortell, executive director of the center and the Glenwood Springs Council for the Arts, took the reins of the organization three years ago. Since then she has made it financially stable and brought in hundreds of new members.

Mortell’s can-do attitude comes naturally.

She walked into an aging building that needed a lot of care, a faltering membership and art and dance classes that did not draw many students.

In her two years on the job she’s won $151,000 from the state Historical Society to begin refurbishing the building, increased the membership from 300 in 1999 to 1,000 members today, and raised enrollment in classes from 80 to almost 350 at a time.

She also brought the organization into the computer age.

But her greatest challenge remains ahead. With the launch of the HEART capital campaign, the arts council is committed to raising $380,000 to remodel the art center building, built in 1886 as the city’s hydroelectric plant.

“We still have a long way to go,” she said.

This week she’s kicking off a campaign asking the public to contribute $20 apiece toward the building fund.

Her winding path to the art center began in the Midwest.

Like many of us in the valley Mortell is a transplant. She grew up in an extended family of aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents on a family compound in Taylor, Mich., a rural town near Detroit.

College was her chance to break away into the bigger world at Central Michigan University, where she majored in microbiology and fun.

“I lived on the corner of Main and High; that should tell you something about my college experience,” she added.

While she was in college she and her boyfriend took a backpacking trip to the Colorado Rockies, and as many of us have, fell in love with the geography.

“It was the first time I felt I was home,” she said.

The day she graduated, in the spring of 1971, she took off for Aspen.

In 1982, Mortell and a friend started an ad agency, Flying Color.

Although the business was demanding and intense, it was what she wanted.

“I’ve always been kind of independent and entrepreneurial. It fed that part of me,” she said.

Business, and life, were good. She met and married Mike Mortell in 1983 and they had a daughter, Alyssa, in 1986.

“In the ’80s in Aspen business was booming. We did well. But the bigger we grew the harder it got,” she said.

Aspen was also changing.

“As Aspen grew it became more congested. I found it harder to commute. I always lived downvalley. I found myself walking down the street and not recognizing anyone. I was a stranger in my own town. It was an eye-opener for me,” she said.

In 1997 she called it quits.

“I told my partner I was done,” she said.

It was time for the other side of Gayle Mortell to take over.

Mortell was on the board of directors of the Carbondale Council on the Arts, a position that fed the artist side of her personality. A few days after giving notice at Flying Color she was offered a job as development director at CCAH. She jumped at it.

Two years later, the director’s job at the Glenwood art center came open and she jumped again.

Her lofty view, both of the possibilities for the center and the worth of the programs offered, remain steadfast. And best of all, she loves her work.

“I love my job. It’s not really like working,” she said.

Contact Donna Daniels: 945-8515, ext. 520

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