[ By Dawne Belloise ]
An east coaster originally, Carrie Wallace has been in the Gunnison Valley for six years and made a name for herself as a movie buff and cultural heavyweight, creating a popular new non-profit, a film festival, a KBUT DJ presence and taking the reins of the performing arts aspect at the CB Center for the Arts. And she says she’s just getting started.
“It’s a pretty boring place,” says Wallace of her hometown of Manchester, Connecticut, essentially the insurance capital of the U.S. right outside Hartford. “It’s between suburbia and farms,” she tells. “There’s not much going on.”
As the youngest of three girls, Carrie played a lot of sports and the family often took ski trips, mostly to Vermont resorts since since her parents were avid skiers and members of non-competitive ski clubs. “By the time I was 10 I really loved skiing,” she notes. Summers brought Carrie to their other home in Cape Cod and to day camps, where she’d spend all day enjoying the outdoors.
Carrie’s parents ultimately enrolled her in a parochial high school. “They were very education oriented and wanted us to have the best prospects for college. It was one of the best schools around. High school was actually harder than college and definitely prepared me. My hometown was really diverse, so it was weird switching into a predominately white school.”
She graduated in 2011 and enrolled at George Washington University, choosing that school because she wanted to dive into politics, influenced by having been a founding member of the Manchester Youth Commission. “We were a group of high school students who were the youth representatives to all facets of town government, from the planning board to town council, we all sat on different committees as youth representatives. We helped plan a new youth center, the town’s master plan and voiced what we thought the youth in town would want. It was cool to have adults take you seriously and have a seat at the table.”
However, after one college class, Carrie was decidedly put off. “This was not for me, going from local government to a class full of people who wanted to be president.” She switched her studies to human service and social justice. She spent a semester as a volunteer preparing homeless kids to help them assimilate them into the Washington, D.C. school systems, “Some of them couldn’t form sentences at five years old.”
Yet another semester, she volunteered at an elderly care home, “Where I met a 92-year-old woman who spent a lot of time in the Peace Corps in Thailand.” And that influenced Carrie to spend a semester abroad there. Later, she was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to spend a year teaching English in a small coal mining town north of Chiang Mai, Thailand, in 2015.
“I really wanted to work in non-profits and I was really passionate about anti human trafficking, specifically child trafficking. Studying abroad I worked with several non-profits for prevention of child trafficking, identifying kids at risk. I realized I needed to be stronger if I wanted to do that work,” she says.
When she returned to Manchester from Thailand in November of 2016, Carrie had already decided she was moving to Crested Butte. “I had never heard of CB but my friend Jack Mangan’s car broke down in CB on a road trip, and he just stayed here,” she laughs. “I always saw him posting (on social media) about Crested Butte and thought, this looks like a cool place.” She moved into one of the Almont cabins for the winter of 2016/2017 and was hired as a ski instructor. “I skied 130 days the first winter. I wanted to move back to Cape Cod because I thought I was an ocean girl. It never occurred to me what it would be like here in the summer, but I could make a lot more money at my server job on the Cape and living with my parents.”
With her summer job, Carrie saved up, bought a backcountry set-up and returned to the Butte for the winter. “I decided I liked CB a lot more than Cape Cod. I was gung-ho Crested Butte but I had a lot of low paying odd jobs. I used to walk up and down Elk with my resume that had George Washington University, a Fulbright scholarship and a bunch of serving experience in tourist towns and I couldn’t find a job. The bright spot of those times was that I made a lot of friends and started working at the Majestic Theatre,” she says. She was hired in May of 2018, “by our former manager Paden Castles Kelley, who was my first friend in the valley and my best friend. It was a close-knit group,” she says of the movie theater clan, “We called ourselves the Children of the Popcorn.”
At the end of that summer, Paden was sick with cancer and the much-loved local passed away in March of 2019. Carrie was devastated and she turned her grief into a passion for saving the Majestic when it closed. “Paden had a lot of ideas for the Majestic which we’ve integrated into the current plan,” she says of the now non-profit organization that she helped spearhead. She is raising funds to keep the movie theater in the community as not only a first run movie theater but also an events venue.
When the triplex Majestic Theatre was dissolved, Carrie helped initiate Friends of the Majestic, “A non-profit 501c3, to entertain, educate and inspire the Gunnison Valley,” she cites its credo. “By keeping two of the three screens under Hollywood contract for movies, first and second runs, the third screen will be converted into an events space for general parties, karaoke, fundraisers and anything anyone wants to utilize the space for. Budget wise, it’s a really smart move taking the Hollywood contract off one screen because a big part of ticket sales goes back to Hollywood, so we’d make a lot more off of rental fees than ticket sales. That will enable us to maintain the use of the theater. When you’re under contract for a Hollywood movie, you have to sign a legal contract requiring the theater to show a movie for a certain amount of times per day, and if you cancel that movie, you have to pay the company approximately $300 per canceled showing and oftentimes, you’d have an empty theater, so our town needs that casual space rather than a third screen,” she describes.
After observing Carrie organize four fundraisers for the Majestic, the Crested Butte Center for the Arts (CBCA) tapped Carrie to be Performing Arts manager there, which she accepted in March of 2021. “I told them, if you’re impressed with what I’ve done with the Majestic, imagine what I could do if I was getting paid,” she smiles. Carrie is now booking, producing, running security and marketing for the CBCA events.
“I definitely never get bored,” she says. “My big goal being the concert producer for the Arts Center is to keep things really affordable for the locals and have a lot of diversity in our concerts.” Plus, she feels that her work there has also helped the Majestic. “People see what I can do now and have more faith in the Majestic project.” The organization has raised $80,000 of their $300,000 goal since October of 2020, and she’s hoping with the 501c3 status, she can secure larger donations and grants.
Carrie also created the Sweaty Kids Film Festival in 2019. “It’s like homemade mini movies called edits and we have no rules for submissions. It’s a celebration of local unprofessional talent. They’re incredibly talented filmmakers but also not professional.” The yearly event happens in December and is a sold out show at the CBCA. “It’s really soul affirming and super fun,” she says. “This year we had 20 entries and it lasted about four hours,” she says. The one-night event saw 300 people show up. “We livestreamed it and had 1,000 viewers all over the country.” Carrie is also a KBUT volunteer DJ, every other Tuesday, noon to 2 p.m. Her program is called Biodegradable Remedies. “We play all voices of color. I play old soul and funk mostly,” she says.
Carrie met Conrad Kaul, now her fiancé, while they were both working at the Majestic in April of 2019. “There were only two people on at nights so it was like a date night,” she recalls. “We played Yahtzee a lot. We got engaged on the roof of the Center of the Arts, where he was doing snow removal, it was at the end of the work day. He had a bottle of champagne, a chair and a blanket set up,” she says, so of course, she said yes.
The couple recently bought a house in Gunnison. “We wanted to move while things were still slightly affordable, and we couldn’t afford anything in CB. But we love this house and we can see ourselves having a family in it. We didn’t want to wait until we were forced out of our rental in Crested Butte and had to take whatever housing was left. We have two rescue dogs and the big fenced in yard was the big reason we wanted this house, for our sweet pups. We’re so committed to staying the valley. I’ve never felt like I belonged somewhere until I came here. It’s been a weird time to try to cement yourself in the valley and since Vail bought it, everything’s changing. So many long-time locals have been forced out, but I really believe we need the younger generation to keep it going.”
Carrie feels strongly Crested Butte needs to keep itself funky and authentic, “A real place with real people because it’s 100-percent the people and the community that keep me here. It’s powerful. I can’t imagine losing that.”