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The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra balanced its budget in fiscal year 2023, despite still-dropping contributions from corporations and still-lagging attendance at concerts.

At its annual meeting Tuesday, the nonprofit announced an operating surplus of $77,600 on operating expenses of about $10.6 million for the year that ended June 30. Expenses increased about 11% from the year before.

After a season of 50% capacity limits, the chamber orchestra returned to full-capacity live performances on its full range of stages during the 2022-23 season. Audiences nearly doubled, from close to 36,000 in 2021-22 to about 71,000 in 2022-23.

But like other performing arts organizations, the nonprofit still hasn't recovered from the pandemic: Overall attendance was down 30% compared with the last full year before COVID-19 hit, shuttering stages.

Funding from corporations and foundations fell, too, another trend across the arts.

The nonprofit was able to land in the black thanks to large, one-time gifts from donors, said Jon Limbacher, managing director and president. But that's not sustainable, he noted.

The goal is to balance the organization's budget with "sustainable and renewable revenue," Limbacher said. "Before the pandemic we were able to do that. We need to get back to that, and we're working to get back to that."

The organization is much more dependent on individual donations than it once was. "Our community of supporters are really the hero of the SPCO story," Limbacher said.

The SPCO also reported drawing $2 million from its endowment, a similar figure to the previous year.

The SPCO has balanced its budget every year since 2012, when it reported a deficit of nearly $900,000. The year's small surplus will feed a "rainy day" fund the SPCO has been building in recent years, bringing it to $4.5 million.

The chamber orchestra has been grappling with the falloff in subscribers, a long-term trend that has accelerated since the pandemic, Limbacher said. Subscribers, who buy season ticket packages, have been "the foundation of not only audience and attendance, but the foundation of our donor base," he said. "When you see that group declining, it's worrisome."

But a decade ago, the SPCO launched a Netflix-style membership as another way for concertgoers to stay engaged with the ensemble. Members pay $9 a month to attend unlimited concerts. That membership costs just $5 a month for the first year.

"We see membership as being one of the pillars of our accessibility," Limbacher said.

The nonprofit has long focused on affordable tickets. During the 2022-23 season, it sold more than 20,000 tickets for $15 or less. In addition, nearly 13,000 tickets were distributed free of charge, including to children and students.