David Swirsky has such Big Love for Akron, he’s even leading an Intervention

David Swirsky is the Chapter Leader of the Akron League of Creative Interventionists, a global network that creates shared experiences in public space that break down social barriers and catalyze connections between people and communities, founded by San Francisco-based artist Hunter Franks. He is also the Art and Promotions Director of Akron’s Big Love Fest, a music and culture festival held in Akron’s historic district every February. The University of Akron undergrad studies Organizational Communication and New Media, a natural fit for the various projects he has going on.

This wasn’t initially the most obvious path for him. In high school, he says, he was more focused on sports, then went on to Ohio State for a year where he “had this idea of world peace.” Which might sound like a joke coming from anyone else, but from Swirsky sounds utterly sincere.

In 2011 he realized he needed to focus on himself and “made some big changes” in his personal life, moving back to Akron and following the path of yoga, which has been “a big inspiration” for him.

His musician and artist friends were also an inspiration to him creatively. He began studying photography and videography, “capturing moments” as he says, as well as doing some spoken word poetry. He switched his major from media production to more people-oriented organizational communication.  “[And that’s] right up where I’m going with all of this!” he jokes.

Regardless of whether he started out on this path – and what 18-year-old fresh out of high school really does? – Swirsky is now an engaged leader and activist, already growing beyond the student-run organizations he participates in (one is on environmental sustainability, the other on holistic leadership and mindful meditation practices). Last year, he and his friend Zach Friedhof, a musician with the band Bright Lights, had an idea to create a wintertime music festival when things are really “bleak” in Akron. They met about it in November and held the first annual Big Love Fest in February, drawing in a crowd of about 1,000 people.

“Zach sparked it,” Swirsky says. “He organizes the Akron Peace Project. He’s 10 years older than me but we have a creative synergy.” (To his credit, Swirsky seems older than he is.)

Friedhof played an acoustic set at Uncorked Wine Bar that Swirsky happened to catch, and at this show Friedhof said that he had an idea for wintertime festival and put it out to the audience if anybody was interested in getting on board with it to let him know. Swirsky reached out to him that night and they put they whole thing together in two months with help of a Go Fund Me campaign and donations at the door. “We could only pay the musicians and artists $50 each, but they were down for it because it was this big community undertaking,” Swirsky says.

It’s almost as if he doesn’t realize that musicians and artists often don’t get paid at all, and for much bigger and better-funded events than his.

The first Big Love community festival had two stages and covered both levels of the Musica complex (Uncorked Wine Bar, where this all began, is on the second floor of this complex) in Akron’s historic district. The event featured live music from bands and solo singer-songwriters, poetry, dance, performance painting, food and wine, yoga, meditation, kids’ arts and crafts, vendors, poetry, hula hooping, healthy living and community organizing workshops, and more. It was also totally free, though donations were accepted at the door.

Swirsky and Friedhof, along with co-organizers Beth Vild and Megan Shane, are also very mindful of having an ecologically responsible zero-waste event, and with some one thousand people through the door over 12 hours last year, Swirsky is proud to say they produced 12 bags of recycling and only one bag of trash.

This year Big Love will be held on February 28, and this time around they have funding from the Knight Foundation.

But that’s just one thing Swirsky does. He is also the Chapter Leader of the Akron League of Creative Interventionists, once again because he happened to be in the right place at the right time and responded to a call for help.

“In August when Hunter Franks came on his Creative Interventions Tour, I got a Facebook invite from the owner of an art space in downtown Akron,” Swirsky recalls. “At that time all I had under my belt was Big Love fest; I wasn’t an arts leader or anything. There were other people who were more accomplished.”

During this tour the first meeting of the Akron League was held at the Akron Arts Museum. Swirsky and his team created a “cave of wonders” using yarn, sidewalk chalk, and duct tape on the front wall of the museum, and Swirsky thought to himself, “If this guy Hunter can convince the Art Museum that his ideas are so cool that we can put duct tape on the walls, that’s power. It was pretty convincing.”

Before Franks left Akron to continue his tour he intended to name a leader for the Akron League chapter. “No one else wanted to do it; they were all established in their jobs. So I volunteered.”

Swirsky’s soothing go-with-the-flow-wherever-it-takes-you attitude seems to be taking him far; he has already built quite the resume for himself as an arts advocate and community organizer, and he’s still a college senior.

“[I was just] volunteering for this opportunity, then I got shot into the spotlight – I got miracled into the spotlight! I’m trying to steer the ship in a good way that’s hopefully sustainable too.”

The Akron League of Creative Interventionists meets once a month and has an “intervention” once a month based around a common global theme such as “Gratitude” and “Warmth” – as Swirsky explains it, “one meeting to brainstorm and one to act.”

“It’s pretty free-flowing,” he says of the meetings. “I try to engage people in the meeting in any way [I can]. There are a lot of diverse people. [It started out as] a lot of my friends then rippled out to people I don’t even know.”

The Akron League of Creative Interventionists is currently one of seven finalists for the current Knight Cities Challenge, and if they win they’ll have a salary for the next 18 months, a headquarters/gathering space/makerspace, and the ability to enact multiple placemaking, sustainability, and neighborhood engagement projects (citing the Neighborhood Postcard Project as an example of the work they might do). They’ll know their fate by the end of March, but in the meantime Swirsky has a major cultural festival to produce and, oh yeah, there’s also that small little matter of his approaching college graduation.