A volunteer’s volunteer
For 38 years, Carol Mousel has helped northern Nevada’s arts community come alive
Story by Pat McDonnell • Photographs by Jean Dixon
There are several sure-fire ways to invigorate the pulse of the arts community in a medium-sized city.
Carol Mousel dived right in 38 years ago to stir up the brilliant palette of culture bubbling just underneath the surface of northern Nevada. She became the kind of volunteer who creates magic with everything she touches.
"As a community member, you are offered opportunities in a smaller town that you couldn't possibly have in a major city," says the longtime friend of the University of Nevada, Reno and its College of Arts and Science.
Mousel has loved the visual, participatory and performing arts for decades, and she has worked hard to ensure that Reno saves a space for creative imagination, on and off the 15,000-student Nevada campus.
"One of the things of which I'm most proud is the overall growth in the arts community," she says during an interview in her airy southwest Reno home. The new museum (the new Nevada Museum of Art building to open in downtown Reno May 24) that's being built is going to be so exciting and so beautiful."
Mousel has been a leader in raising funds for a world premiere of Nevada Shakespeare Company's original stage adaptation of Emma Sepúlveda and Marjorie Agosin's Amigas: Letters of Friendship and Exile. The play will open at the museum this July. Sepúlveda is a foreign languages and literatures professor at the university, and Mousel is excited about the play's contribution to the cultural life of the growing regional arts scene.
"To see this kind of growth is phenomenal," she says. "I was just part of the beginning, and there have been thousands of people since me who are continuing the efforts. I don't think anyone could help but think that the arts are alive and well in Reno, and moving in the right direction."
A cohesive blend of arts programming now exists in northern Nevada neighborhoods and on the Nevada campus, Mousel relates, noting that was not the case when she came to town with her husband, Donald, and only child, Lise, in 1965. A University of Nevada, Reno Foundation trustee since 1998, Mousel has helped to oversee a multi-million dollar budget, which includes endowments, scholarships and programming central to the arts community.
"There is a better interaction between town and gown than there used to be," she says. "I hope that the community recognizes the contribution that the university made toward encouraging public television and public radio." KNPB-TV Channel 5 and KUNR 88.7-FM were both established on campus since the Mousels moved to Reno. Carol served on the founding committee for these media outlets vital to the university's outreach mission and academic goals.
"As I recall, the first meeting for both of them took place on campus," she says. "Now look at what they do for this community. Without one, you can't have the other. You need that academic stimulation."
Mousel started her volunteer work in the area in 1966 at the Nevada Museum of Art, then located on Ralston Street. She was a founding member of the Sierra Arts Foundation board in 1971, and served as executive director of that agency from 1979-86. Mousel, who helped champion Sierra Arts Foundation's Arts in Education Program, also was a trustee for the Downtown Reno Foundation, an early leader in Reno redevelopment. In 1983, she received the Governor's Arts Award.
Fran Harvey, a Sierra Arts Foundation colleague who nominated Mousel for the award, said her friend's "commitment to the community, as well as to its cultural life" exemplified "the highest level of professional leadership to arts in northern Nevada."
President Reagan sent a letter of commendation to Sierra Arts Foundation for involving the local business community with the arts.
On campus, Mousel was active on the Church Fine Arts renovation and fund-raising committees. She has been a member of the College of Arts and Science advisory board since 1991, and was instrumental in creating the Fund for Excellence Lecture Series. Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Robert Butler, former chief weapons inspector for the United Nations, have lectured on campus through the series.
In 1993, Mousel and longtime friend Barbara Feltner established the Dr. Donald Mousel and Dr. William Feltner Award for Excellence in Research and/or Creative Activity. Mousel, a Reno ophthalmologist, passed away at 62 in 1994.
"My half of that endowment was a gift to my husband, an anniversary present to him," says Mousel of the award for College of Arts and Science faculty. "He would have been so proud to see that the awardees had been able to further their work through award money in his name."
History Professor Elizabeth Raymond was the inaugural awardee. Other winners were Richard Davies, Reinhard Bruch, David Ehrke, Stephen Tchudi, Bruno Bauer, Paul Starrs, James Winn, Linda White and David Ake.
"I wanted a research award to match the Alan Bible teaching award," says Foundation English Professor Ann Ronald, who served as dean of the College of Arts and Science from 1989 until 1996. "Carol is a model of citizen involvement."
Mousel has always viewed the arts as a family avocation.
Lise was born in 1958 in Montreal, Canada, a city Carol describes as "a melting pot." The small family took in all the cosmopolitan city had to offer.
"Arts has to be part of your life," Carol Mousel says. "Part of education is to make you a self-fulfilled person so that if you end up with a job that does not offer you personal growth, you can do it in your personal life."
She taught second and third grade for two years for Montreal's Protestant school board.
"At the second school in which I taught, there were 25 languages being spoken," she remembers.
She was assistant to the medical librarian at the city's McGill University, where Donald was earning his medical degree.
Later, the family moved to Washington, D.C. and then Key West, Fla., where they met internationally recognized playwright Tennessee Williams.
The Mousels remembered what they had experienced culturally in Key West, and later drew comparisons to the evolving arts scene in northern Nevada.
"It's extremely stimulating (in Reno now)," she says. "I think Hemingway would have enjoyed the independence of the people who live here."
Lise was 7 when the family moved to Reno. She first became acquainted with the university when she took art classes from Professor Jim McCormick at 8 or 9, Carol says.
"She did some wonderful things that she enjoyed, like exploring textures with Professor McCormick," Carol says. "I've framed some of the paintings she did at that time."
Donald shared his love for music with Lise.
"He was one of the best critical listeners to music I have ever encountered," Carol says. "He didn't play any instrument well, but he listened extremely well, and he was just as happy to listen to bluegrass as he was to listen to classical music. Lise's experience with music ran the gamut.
"Our house was never quiet. There was always music playing."
Lise, who worked as on-air talent for Reno's ABC, CBS and NBC network television affiliates from 1984 through 1998, says her mother has always enjoyed community service in northern Nevada.
"She became executive director of the Sierra Arts Foundation on a strictly volunteer basis," Lise says. "She's such a strong believer in the arts. It came from her own heart and soul."
Lise was a graduate student in journalism at Nevada in 1981 and 1982.
Carol's 11-year-old-granddaughter, Anna, a Peavine Elementary School student, is also immersed in community arts as well as campus science programming. She is taking weekly honors classes at Nevada.
"She's excited about the chemistry class she's taking," Carol said of the fifth-grader.
Ellie, another granddaughter, is 8. She's in second grade and enjoys art, dance and playing music.
Like her daughter and granddaughters, Carol has been interested in cultivating her sense of sight and touch as well as her awareness of the world around her. She belongs to a hiking club in her native British Columbia and skis at resorts adjacent to Lake Tahoe.
During her childhood in the little Canadian Rockies village of Salmo, south of Banff, Carol looked for a hands-on way to make sense of a town with little to offer in the area of arts.
"My mother says I planted a lot of seeds, but most of them didn't grow," she recalls.
Ninety-eight-year-old Gladys Clark, who lives with Carol, would probably alter that pragmatic assessment of her daughter, offered many years ago. Today, indisputably, Carol Mousel has provided northern Nevada with a bountiful arts harvest that yields a vital crop for her community.