By Paul T. Choate
March 20, 2013. “‘Horn in the West’ will not continue without a significant investment from the town of Boone.” That was the message conveyed by Eric Woolridge and other board members of the Southern Appalachian Historical Association at the Tuesday Boone Town Council meeting.
Due to financial difficulties stemming from numerous issues, the Southern Appalachian Historical Association needs $20,000 in order to open “Horn in the West” for the 2013 summer season. According to SAHA Chairwoman Michelle Ligon, lower attendance last year due to five rain-outs and the absence of a $5,000 grant from the N.C. Arts Council that they had received in prior years have been the main contributing factor to the production’s woes.
SAHA had initially planned to formally request the $20,000 from the Town of Boone at Tuesday’s meeting, but the council requested that SAHA present their need for funds for information only last night.
Horn in the West will be cutting costs by reducing their operating budget and by starting the season later than in past years. The performance used to start in mid-June but has scheduled June 28 as opening night this season. The show will be extended one week past when it usually closes in August, resulting in a six-day cut in the season. Ligon said the schedule change was done because attendance was typically higher in July and August.
Responding to a question by Councilman Andy Ball regarding how SAHA planned to operate the production in the black this year, Ligon said cutting the season by six days would result in a 12 percent reduction in salary costs and said SAHA has asked the director to cut another 4.5 percent from the production budget.
Ligon also said that “Horn in the West” will change their marketing strategy, only advertising in the major visitor guides in the area and not advertising in smaller publications where they have in the past.
Citing a study done by Appalachian State University in 2008 and using the same variables, Ligon said in 2012 the economic impact of the production came to $1.4 million dollars — down from $1.8 million in 2008.
Councilwoman Jamie Leigh noted that the production does not just impact the economy of the town of Boone but the area in general and asked if SAHA had sought help from the Watauga County Commissioners. Ligon said they have not formally requested help from the commissioners — noting that they receive $12,000 from the county each year already — but that they plan to seek additional funding.
“We can’t make it on ticket sales alone,” Ligon said. SAHA Vice Chairman Steve Canipe added that other outdoor dramas do not make it on ticket sales alone either.
“That business model doesn’t seem to work and [ticket sales are] the major source of what you do, and then you have overhead besides that that is not even being touched by any kind of revenue,” Leigh said. “Have you rethought that maybe 62 years might be enough for this production? Maybe you need to expand on to other things, or you need to add on other things to cover — let the tradition continue, knowing it’s not going to cover itself — but then you have to have something else that is a profit center in order to have everything work out.”
“In our whole 62 years we’ve always had some state funding and we had zero last year,” Canipe said. “If we can have partners, these partners would really give us some cushion. There are some barriers but if we had good partnerships with other presenters, other organizations that want to do things on the property that we lease, I think that would take the hardship of us trying to make it on just ticket sales.”
SAHA is looking at other ways to raise funds. Ligon said there is currently an online fundraising effort in the works to help raise money for “Horn in the West.”
“Horn in the West,” along with Manteo’s “The Lost Colony” and Cherokee’s “Unto These Hills,” are the three oldest outdoor dramas in the nation.
“We are one of the three legacy dramas here in North Carolina and we’re just not ready to drop it because we’re having difficulties getting open this year,” Canipe said.
Despite last night’s presentation being for information only, Katy Cook, SAHA public relations and administration director, said prior to the meeting that SAHA will likely formally request $20,000 from the town soon.
For more information about SAHA and “Horn in the West,” visit horninthewest.com.