'Horn' seeks 'immediate' aid to open
by Anna Oakes
Southern Appalachian Historical Association board members appeared before the Boone Town Council Tuesday to present information related to $20,000 in funding it needs to open "Horn in the West" this year.
"'Horn in the West' needs immediate support in order to open for its 62nd year in a row," said Eric Woolridge, a SAHA board member. "We hope that the town of Boone can help provide that support."
SAHA is a nonprofit organization that produces "Horn in the West" at a town-owned amphitheater off of Horn in the West Drive in Boone. In addition to "Horn in the West" ticket revenue, the organization receives funding through subleases of the town property's parking lot to Appalachian State University and to the Watauga County Farmers' Market.
While the SAHA board does not want to provide "elaborate excuses or some sob story," the board has no shame in communicating a need and desire to see the production continue, Woolridge said.
Woolridge noted that past boards had been willing to take on debt to sustain the production but that SAHA significantly reduced its debt over the past few years. He said that SAHA welcomes change and wants to partner with the town, its Cultural Resources Board and others to ensure the sustainability of the "Horn in the West" production.
"'Horn in the West' will not continue without a significant investment from the town of Boone," whether that comes from a funding contribution or infrastructure improvements, Woolridge concluded.
SAHA Chairwoman Michelle Ligon distributed a packet of information that included SAHA's adopted 2013 budget, a comparison of funding sources with other outdoor dramas, letters of support, a public relations plan and marketing materials.
Councilman Andy Ball asked what changes SAHA planned to make to operate in the black in 2013. Ligon said SAHA reduced the season length by about a week, resulting in a 12 percent reduction in salary costs, and asked the director to trim another 4.5 percent from the production budget. SAHA also moved the season back by two weeks and extended the season one week later into August, a time when attendance tends to be up, she said.
Councilwoman Jamie Leigh asked if SAHA has requested funding from the Watauga County Commissioners.
"I'd like to see that happen as well. We really do support you so much already," said Leigh. "I think the economic impact is not just to the town -- it's to the locality in a general way."
Ligon said SAHA receives $12,000 from the county each year and that it does plan to request an increase in funding. Ligon also mentioned a new fundraising website, http://saha.bellstrike.com/donate.
Ligon said that "Horn" cannot make it on ticket sales alone, to which Leigh commented, "That business model doesn't seem to work." She asked if board members have ever reconsidered the business model.
SAHA Vice Chairman Steve Canipe pointed to other outdoor dramas in the state, noting, "None of them make it on ticket sales. So we're not alone."
Premiering in 1952, "Horn in the West" is the third oldest outdoor drama in the nation, after Manteo's "The Lost Colony" and Cherokee's "Unto These Hills."
The Boone Town Council discussed the situation at a council retreat last week. Councilman Rennie Brantz, a SAHA board member, described the circumstances as being at "a crisis point" and commented that it might be wise for "Horn" to take a season off and reorganize, to which other council members agreed.