"The best seats are on the back row," Diana Heaton recently told visitors to the Sharpe Planetarium.
The planetarium reopened last weekend after being closed earlier this year, one of the many victims of the city's $26 million budget shortfall. Three full-time and two part-time staff positions were cut from the city's budget, leaving the venue inoperable.
But when the City Council's property tax increase was approved last month, planetarium funds were replaced in the budget. Only it wasn't soon enough. Of the five laid-off employees, only one returned; the rest found other employment.
Heaton, the only returning staff member and a high school student at Immaculate Conception, welcomed visitors back to the Sharpe for the four Saturday shows. Prior to the layoffs, Heaton worked 15 months at the Sharpe and even volunteered at other Pink Palace venues during the planetarium's hiatus.
Most of the attendees at the morning show were long-time fans of the Sharpe, including out-of-town visitors from Knoxville, Ripley, and Olive Branch. Counted among Saturday's visitors was Heaton's mother, who purchased tickets for all four show times.
Because of the budget cuts, the planetarium still closes earlier than it did and has fewer show times.