Performances at Owen Theatre last weekend resulted in the Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre (SART) exceeding its $20,000 fundraising goal. That success is a highlight of what otherwise has been a dim summer, and has SART leadership hopeful for a bright future.
As of Wednesday morning, SART had raised $22,003, according to Jim Brown, president of the SART board of directors. "This weekend brought back SART alumni and supporters, and also connected us with a new audience from the Mars Hill and Asheville area that wasn't as familiar with SART," Brown said. "It really demonstrated that this is something this community wants--that this community needs."
The summer of 2017 is the first in SART's 42-year history not to include a full slate of performances. The professional nonprofit theatre company got its start in 1975 in Owen Theatre on the Mars Hill University campus. Over the years it has staged many world premieres, along with more familiar titles and performances celebrating SART's eponymous Southern Appalachian home region.
But construction work to renovate and expand Owen Theatre's accommodations sent SART to alternate venues for two years. The inconsistent locations during the on-the-road seasons led to inconsistent ticket sales. Coupled with a loss of key staff positions, the result was a revenue and artistic shortage that led to the cancellation of the 2017 season.
But supporters rallied to SART's cause. Among them is Randy Noojin, a veteran of previous SART performances and a crowd favorite over the years. He offered up his solo show "Hard Travelin' With Woody" for a four-day run of performances to serve as a SART fundraiser. Crowds packed Owen Theatre for Noojin's multimedia show featuring Woody Guthrie's music and artwork.
The successful fundraiser is a positive sign for the future, but it doesn't mean SART is back to business as usual. Brown says the money raised brings SART out of the hole, but the key to future success is creating a plan for a sustainable future. He says the weekend performances and the news about them helped connect SART with people in the area who have extensive arts administration and fundraising experience, and who want to help the organization move forward.
Brown says the SART board is considering producing a musical around Christmastime, to help build revenue in anticipation of offering a 2018 season. "We have to be thoughtful and deliberate," he said. "It's going to take a lot of hard work by the board and other volunteers--giving time and energy to build back up to staging a full season."