After many years steering the Pondera Arts Council, Helen Elliott had decided that it was time for someone else to provide leadership for the PAC. At the elections of officers at the last PAC board meeting, Tim Toeset was elected President and will be accepting the gavel from Elliott at the March meeting.
In remembering her many years as president, she remembers seemingly incredible events that have transformed a group of concerned citizens into the Pondera Arts Council. It all started over lunch one day in 1998 when a group of individuals decided to pursue bringing public radio to Conrad. Phil Aaberg provided the entertainment for the kick-off fundraising concert. Miraculously, and with the help from many people, over $10,000 was raised and Yellowstone Public Radio (91.3 FM) began broadcasting to Conrad and surrounding area. Mission accomplished.
But that was only the beginning. The group, under her leadership, started looking for another project, and, at some point, began calling itself the Pondera Arts Council. It was noted that there was no grand piano of any size anywhere in Conrad, so there were no piano concerts. Once again, the group set out to raise funds, and, with the help of the Montana Arts Council, was able to purchase a grand piano, which was placed at the Catholic Church. The church was most gracious, and several concerts were held there.
In 2001 another great opportunity presented itself: a chance to purchase the derelict and closed Orpheum Theatre. Again, a miracle. PAC was able to raise the funds and purchased the building and put on a new roof. Now, to remodel the wreck. PAC was able to obtain a grant from the Wiegand Foundation of Reno, and after “sweat and tears” and a huge campaign, the Orpheum reopened to movies and concerts. Subsequently, the grand piano has taken up home at the Orpheum.
Then, 10 years later, in another project, to keep up with technology, another $65,000 was raised to get into the digital age so Conrad could continue to show movies.
Elliott cannot begin to show her undying gratitude to all the workers and visionaries, from the beginning to now, who have helped keep the arts alive in Conrad.“My sincere appreciation to this wonderful community that has supported the activities of the PAC over the years. The Orpheum wouldn’t exist without you,” she said.
But Elliott isn’t done. She still plans to “hang in there” as chairman of the Concert Committee. She wants to bring a variety of entertainment to Conrad and expand the movie and concert audience.
New ideas for the PAC include an addition to the building to provide much needed dressing rooms and restrooms for performers. The question Elliott posed, “Is Conrad strong enough to support the arts with this future project?” Elliott’s dream—if each Conrad resident would come to at least one movie and one concert in 2014. If that would happen, according to her, “It would be beyond my wildest dreams!”