After opening its doors in the midst of a recession, the head of the National Music Centre says they're working hard to attract more visitors and climb out of debt.

Studio Bell launched at a time when corporate sponsorship, special events income and ticket sales in the arts sector were dwindling.

President and CEO Andrew Mosker said officials estimated they'd see about 150,000 pass through the doors in the first year, but it was actually close to 100,000.

Despite that, Mosker says they've managed to raise more than $130 million to pay for the building, but still owe $60 million and are working to pay that off.

"I feel that we've navigated the storm quite well, despite the downturn," he said.

"Are the dollars out there? I believe they are. And I believe they will continue to be there. You still have to work for them."

Andrew Mosker National Music Centre Studio Bell

National Music Centre president and CEO Andrew Mosker says the organization fared well given the economic downturn. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

Patti Pon, president and CEO of Calgary Arts Development, said the hard times have been seen across the sector.

"And in the case of the cornerstone companies like the National Music Centre, what we've seen over the last couple of years is a 30-per-cent drop in corporate sponsorship, a 45-per-cent drop in special events income and a 25-per-cent drop in earned revenue, that's ticket sales," she said.

"It's not been easy for sure. We've seen these companies work really hard to manage the risk, like many businesses."

Mosker says fundraising for this year's operational budget is on track.

"So I have every reason to believe we are going to succeed in closing the gap," he said. "And all it takes from us is being very agile with our operational costs and our spending and to be very nimble and continuing to deliver great programming and relevance and impact for this community and the dollars will follow."

The focus now is on attracting more live music, exhibits and artists, as well as making the centre accessible to community groups.

Lillian Nazareth National Music Centre

Lillian Nazareth visited the National Music Centre with her two boys from Houston. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

In Calgary from Texas, Lillian Nazareth and her two young boys visited Studio Bell for the first time this week.

"We don't have anything like this in Houston," she said. "So we thought it would be a good stop for the kids."

With files from Jennifer Lee