By Jesse Wood
May 2, 2013. Southern Appalachian Historical Association Chair Michelle Ligon said “Horn in the West” is opening for its 62nd consecutive year on June 28, yet funding needs for initial operating expenses remain.
In March, SAHA representatives went to the Boone Town Council to request $20,000, which is needed for payroll before cash flow arrives from the spectators of the “Horn in the West” productions. Katy Cook, a SAHA spokesman, said at the time the two primary factors leading to the financial difficulties were due to rainouts last season and the loss of a $5,000 N.C. Arts Council grant.
In April, the Boone Town Council voted to match $10,000 of donations if the Watauga County Board of Commissioners opted to rescind the sales tax switch. The commissioners did not, and now the Town of Boone will receive $2 million less in sales tax revenue. Watauga County is expected to receive in the neighborhood of $500,000 with the switch to an ad valorem sales-tax basis.
Ligon said that SAHA will request $8,400 from the Watauga County Board of Commissioners at its May 7 meeting, adding that more than $11,600 has been raised to date.
Although, Commissioner Perry Yates, who attends “Horn in the West” production each year with his family and donates materials to the production through his business New River Building Supply, wouldn’t commit to funding the money before discussion of the topic at the next board meeting, he did say that he wants the Horn in the West to survive because it’s the heritage of Watauga County.
“Personally, I would like to see the Horn – like the Arts Council – succeed,” Yates said, adding that he has seen the heritage of the area “decline” over the years. “I think we have to take a hard look at it. It’s the third oldest outdoor drama in the nation.”
But Yates also threw in a jab to the Town of Boone.
“I just think that’s real convenient [for the Boone Town Council] to say no and lay that on our lap,” Yates said. “It’s not just [the recent sales tax] reallocation problem, it’s been a 20-year problem.”
At the commissioners budget retreat in February, Yates noted the deterioration of the facilities at Horn in the West and said that leaves visitors with a bad impression on the High Country. In February, he said if the Town of Boone wasn’t going to improve the facilities, then Watauga County Board of Commissioners should consider what it could do. (When the Daniel Boone Park concept was a hot topic last year, a study noted that it would cost $2.06 million for structures and facilities, such as restoration of the amphitheater, seating bowl, back of the house, restrooms, concessions and pavilions. Overall, the Daniel Boone Park was estimated to cost nearly $10 million.)
Yates did, though, commend Ligon, who has been with SAHA since 2010, for her recent efforts.
“I think she has been a good organizer and a hard worker,” said Yates, who also commended the recent fundraising efforts of SAHA.
Financial problems aren’t new to “Horn in the West” and Ligon said that SAHA has recovered from debt problems that surfaced several years ago.
“We’ve made a lot of strides getting out of debt that someone accidentally got them in,” Ligon said, adding that because of this SAHA has been leery of hiring a general manager and that staff and the board perform multiple roles.
This year, “Horn in the West” is cutting costs by reducing its operating budget and cutting the season by six days. The production will start later than in years past and be extended later in the summer – when attendance is better. SAHA is also ramping up efforts to increase advanced ticket sales online to begin cash flow earlier than usual and it has offered two new membership programs.
The 2013 season runs from Friday, June 28, through Saturday, August 17.