We asked readers to nominate women who have contributed to the community through business, volunteerism, charity and civic involvement. CASEY PAGE
When Rimrock Opera Co. and Venture Theatre combined forces two years ago, the merger was intended to encourage long-term viability for two established arts organizations that had each faced some serious challenges.
Since then, things are looking up for the combined organization, NOVA Center for the Performing Arts.
Lucinda Butler, president of NOVA’s board of directors, said the merger represented the best way to reinvigorate two important arts organizations.
“The merger was an interesting concept, and it was a way for (Rimrock Opera) to have smaller productions for shows in a venue that we had rented in the past,” said Butler, who was on the Rimrock Opera board during the merger. “We had rented the Venture Theatre in the past and had camps there. We felt it was worth saving, so we had many meetings and sleepless nights on both sides.”
What was the toughest part about the merger?
“It was gaining the trust of the theater community, letting them know we weren’t here to destroy what had been built or destroy the mission of the organization,” Butler said. “We made sure the checks and balances were absolute, and we reassured parents that the programs would continue to be there.”
Some worried about the future viability of both organizations. But Butler said NOVA’s supporters saw the merger as an opportunity.
“Some people have told me, ‘You can’t do this or you shouldn’t do that.’ But that inspires me to work harder, and I’ve found ways to get it done.”
Music has always been a part of Butler’s life.
“I was always impressed by how music can help you fit in immediately in a group setting. It’s important, especially for teens to be part of a group,” she said.
“I played flute growing up, and I wanted to major in music. My dad told me they had money set aside for me to go to college, but he said it would be smarter to go to school and have a profession that you could make a living from, so I understood the practical side of education.”
Butler took her father’s advice and chose a career in nursing, with the understanding that she could always rekindle her interest in music.
The music bug bit soon after she moved to Billings.
Attending her first opera, at Intermountain Opera in Bozeman in 1998, was a life-changing experience.
“I had heard soloists with a symphony before, but never a full-length opera,” she said. “It was a perfect trifecta, with the world’s most beautiful voices, with such a skilled orchestra, and they’re acting all at the same time.”
Through the years, Butler has been a frequent volunteer at her children’s schools, and she remains an advocate for public education.
“In this state and in the upper Midwest, there’s this pocket of public education that’s intact. The arts are funded, and we’re so fortunate to have the programs we have. It’s worth fighting for,” she said.
Butler lived in a number of communities while growing up because the company her father worked for often moved him around to reorganize different stores.
After moving to Billings as an adult, Butler made an effort to understand how Billings works. One of the first things she did was to take a Montana history class from Keith Edgerton at Montana State University Billings.
“I wanted to understand the reasons for certain things, like why there’s no sales tax in a city that has so many tourists, and why property taxes are structured the way they are,” Butler said.
After she was appointed to the editorial board of The Billings Gazette, Butler began delving into issues that are important to the community. Among other things, she advocated unifying college courses across the University System so that credits could be more easily transferred if a student moves to a different campus.
“The editorial board was really life changing,” Butler said. “It was amazing to me.”
Each year The Gazette Editorial Board publishes its list of community priorities.
Butler said she’s proud that the community has risen to those challenges and made changes.
“When you move anywhere, you don’t tell people what’s wrong with their community. You tell them what’s right. By doing rather than saying, that’s been more effective for me.”
What’s the best part about living in Billings?
“I enjoy the natural landscape here and in this state. And we’re improving our education system.”