The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra ended the year with record attendance — thanks partly to children and college kids who got in for free.
About 116,000 people attended at least one concert during the fiscal year that wrapped up June 30, a 5 percent increase over the year before. That number was boosted by the organization's New Generation Initiative, launched last year, which offers school and college students free tickets.
Compared to the year before, young attendance quadrupled.
The orchestra knew that program would build younger audiences in the long term, said Jon Limbacher, managing director and president of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, or SPCO. "But I have to say that having 8,000 young people at our concerts, compared with 2,000 the year before, exceeded my expectations significantly."
The annual report, presented Wednesday evening, shows that the SPCO balanced its $10.3 million budget in fiscal year 2017, with a surplus of more than $340,000.
Within that report are markers of stability for an organization that, in fiscal year 2013, wrestled with a labor/management dispute that led to a six-month lockout of musicians. The nonprofit used the 2017 year's surplus to finally eliminate an accumulated deficit incurred during 2011 and 2012. It also created a rainy-day fund so that the next time a recession occurs, the organization will be prepared, Limbacher said by phone Wednesday.
Initially, the nonprofit hopes to hit $300,000 to $500,000 in that fund, eventually building it to $1 million.
The report boasts several all-time highs: The number of households that attended a concert topped last year's record, reaching 13,100. Individuals donated $2.8 million to the chamber orchestra's annual fund, a record. Net ticket revenue tied last year's high of $1.5 million.
But a few downward trends continued: The amount given by institutions, including corporations, again declined.
Like other orchestras across the country, the SPCO relies more on donations than ticket sales. In fiscal year 2017, about 62.5 percent of the SPCO's income came from contributions and other support. About 20.5 percent was "earned," a category that includes ticket sales. The endowment made up the rest.
During the 2017 fiscal year, the chamber orchestra performed 140 concerts in 24 different Twin Cities venues. It toured Europe and the East Coast. In October 2016, it released an arrangement of Schubert's "Death and the Maiden," nominated for a Grammy Award last week.
The SPCO — which bills itself as "a primarily unconducted ensemble" — has for decades worked to make its musician-led concerts more affordable, offering free concerts for families and discounted tickets for people in their 20s and 30s. Over the past 13 years, the chamber orchestra's audience grew by more than 50 percent.