Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council CEO Mitch Swain Announces Retirement in 2023
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Pittsburgh – August 4, 2022 – The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council announced today that Mitch Swain, CEO, plans to retire on March 30, 2023. A search committee led by the Arts Council’s board of directors is being developed to create a successful transition plan and lead a national search for the position.
“The Arts Council would not exist if it weren’t for the hundreds of artists and creative workers, arts administrators and arts organizations, businesses and collectives in our region, and it has been my greatest honor to work for this community,” said Swain. “Pittsburgh is a special place for the arts. It’s time for new leadership to usher the Arts Council into a new phase, and I can’t wait to see how our community continues to evolve and thrive.”
Swain has led the inaugural development of the Arts Council since its creation in 2005 as a result of a merger between ProArts and the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Alliance. At the time, several unsuccessful attempts had been made to create an Arts Council to serve Pittsburgh’s arts community. Under Swain’s 17 years of leadership, the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council has become the region’s leading resource and advocate for the arts and cultural community in Western Pennsylvania, helping to direct millions of dollars in private, local, state and federal arts funds to the region.
“Mitch set the stage for the Arts Council to grow into an essential leader in arts advocacy and research. No other entity regionally collects data on the arts economy, which provides essential information to our state and local representatives,” said Dr. Veronica Morgan-Lee, chair of the board of directors and director of fund development at Hill Dance Academy Theatre. “While we’re sad to see Mitch go, we are grateful for his 17 years of leadership and his persistent advocacy on behalf of the arts. We are dedicated to facilitating a smooth transition for the Arts Council’s staff, members and the community.”
Under Swain’s guidance, the Arts Council became known for providing grants and professional resources to independent artists and arts organizations of all levels and disciplines. Priorities in the early years of his leadership included creating organizational sustainability, research capacity, diversity, accessibility and inclusion and support for artists.
Working with leaders across the state, Swain spearheaded arts advocacy efforts for national and state funding and policy during his tenure. Swain worked with statewide partners to defeat the attempted defunding of the PA Council on the Arts in 2009. He served on the board of Citizens for the Arts in Pennsylvania for 13 years until 2020 and was Board Chair from 2010 to 2018. His leadership resulted in the creation of a statewide coalition and a first-ever bicameral, bi-partisan Arts & Cultural Legislative Caucus. Most recently, he was part of the 2022 statewide advocacy effort that will bring $15 million of American Rescue Plan funds to artists and arts and cultural organizations in the near future.
Aside from its advocacy work, the Arts Council has led fundraising efforts and strategic partnerships for the sector under Swain’s leadership. Most notably, the Arts Day of Giving in 2011 and 2014 raised $1.8 million during its 24-hour fundraising period in collaboration with The Pittsburgh Foundation and funding from The Heinz Endowments and others, which went directly to arts organizations. Most recently, the Arts Council was awarded its largest national grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for the creation of its Allegheny Arts Revival Grant, which is currently reviewing grant applications.
Research is a unique cornerstone of the Arts Council’s work in which Swain brought particular focus and vision. In 2018, the Arts Council published “Racial Equity and Arts Funding in Greater Pittsburgh,” a groundbreaking research report focused on regional arts funding disparities based on race. The report revealed a stark contrast between funding for white-majority organizations and BIPOC organizations. This data has been used regionally and nationally to help enact changes to funding practices and priorities within the foundation community.
During what has been the most challenging period for the arts, Swain led the Arts Council’s swift response to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shutdowns. More than $200,000 was distributed via $500 grants to independent artists experiencing loss of income due to event, performance and teaching cancellations. The organization also offset the costs of safety materials and upgrades for arts organizations in response to the pandemic through its Audience Safety Fund. With foundation support, the Arts Council created the Restart the Arts community marketing initiative to support the resurgence of the arts economy in the face of COVID-19.
Most notably, Swain’s dedication to creating an equitable, accessible and inclusive arts community created the foundation for improvements to how the Arts Council functions, including grantmaking, fundraising priorities, community partnerships, and more. The Black Arts Action Committee, a paid working committee of Black artists and professionals, continues to provide leadership and guidance to the staff and leadership in all its work.
As a thought leader promoting the value of our region’s vast arts and cultural community, Swain was elected several times to the United States Urban Arts Federation at Americans for the Arts and chaired the host committee for the successful 2013 Americans for the Arts national convention in Pittsburgh. He serves on the board of VisitPittsburgh, Hill Dance Academy Theatre and the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra.
Prior to his work at the Arts Council, Swain was the Director of Shared Services for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, and for 9 years served with the Jazz Arts Group/Columbus Jazz Orchestra of Columbus, Ohio, including as Executive Director. Formerly the General Manager of Columbus Pro Percussion, Mitch is an experienced drummer and plays in a band of all family members. Mitch earned a BS in organizational communications from Ohio University. He’s also a graduating member of Leadership Pittsburgh XXV, was recognized as a Top 40 Under 40, and received a Jefferson Fellowship from the Jefferson Center for the Arts in Columbus.
Swain’s passion for the arts is also personal. After his retirement, you might see Swain playing drums in one of his bands, like his family band The Sons of Margaret, The Cedar Run Band and the contemporary praise band at his church or visiting local music shops. Most of all, Swain is looking forward to spending more time with his family.
Photos of Mitch Swain are available for media use here, courtesy of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.